If the Florida Gators men’s basketball team is going to avoid the pit that would be an 0-4 start in SEC action, they must win at South Carolina on Saturday (1 p.m., SEC Network or streaming).
And to do that, they’ll have to overcome curdling bad sentiment about the program — and a Gamecocks team that, like any of many under Frank Martin, has the potential to give any team a go on the right night.
This year’s edition of the ‘Cocks are 10-5 and 1-2 in SEC play, but have gotten there mostly by feasting on the less fortunate: South Carolina sits at No. 103 in KenPom, and has only three wins over KenPom top-100 teams — UAB, Florida State, and Vanderbilt, none of which are in the current top 40 (Florida barely is, at No. 37), by a combined six points.
Against Clemson, Auburn, and Tennessee, their only other top-100 foes, South Carolina’s 0-3, with the losses coming by 14, 15, and 20. And while the defeats to Clemson and Tennessee were on the road, Auburn made quick work of the Gamecocks in usually raucous Colonial Life Arena, building a double-digit lead early and never letting it slip.
Expecting these Gamecocks to make significant charges from behind is probably expecting too much. At No. 207 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, their offense is among the worst put on the floor by a power conference program this year, and it has both generally shot atrocious percentages and turned the ball over far too often to achieve efficiency this season, with sterling performances against physically overmatched teams (Wofford, Army, and provisional Division II member Allen University, a historically Black university with an enrollment of 600 that has spent this season getting trounced) seeming like clear outliers.
Jermaine Couisnard and James Reese V shoot decent percentages from three, Wildens Levesque has been an effective scorer on moderate usage inside, and Erik Stevenson is a perfect 27-for-27 from the line this year. Apart from those aspects of those players? There’s just about nothing to like about Carolina’s offense to date.
As bad as that offense is, though, the Gamecocks do have a fine defense, one that has improbably kept all but three foes under a point per possession despite the offensive woes. The trademark physical defense and on-ball pressure under Martin is still there, and while the Gamecocks sacrifice some offensive boards and foul a lot to achieve their turnovers and bother shooters, they’ve at least been able to do that — something that Florida can’t say Mike White’s press has consistently done this year.
And White’s teams have had trouble with the Gamecocks, going 3-6 against them in his tenure and losing in the 2017 Elite Eight despite a lead in the second half.
Falling to 3-7 in those games, 0-4 in SEC play, and 9-7 on the year would feel like the blade getting within millimeters of the Gators’ hopes for this season. While it won’t be a game easily won or a victory to trumpet loudly, this is a must-win for Florida — because losing would deepen a spiral that has already been painful.