If there has been a consistent theme from the first five games of Todd Golden’s time leading the Florida Gators men’s basketball team, it’s probably points: The Gators have been playing up-tempo ball, resulting in totals of 74 points or better for Florida in each outing and 76 or better for the three full rosters that Florida has faced (Stony Brook and Florida State, each without their full complements, fared worse.)
But the biggest number put up in a Florida game this season came on Thursday, and from Xavier, which notched 90 points and 1.17 points per possession in its triumph over the Gators. And that has to worry Golden, even if Xavier — like fellow defense-exploiter and Gators-defeater Florida Atlantic — built a lot of its offensive success on good shooting.
Fortunately for him and his team, Oregon State, Florida’s Friday opponent in the Phil Knight Legacy in Portland, has shown few signs of being a team that can produce points.
Yeah, the Beavers challenged Duke on Thursday — but in a 54-51 game played at a glacial tempo that resulted in 55 possessions. It’s not impossible that the Beavers and Gators will play another game with that sort of tempo, but it’s incredibly unlikely, as notorious plodders like Virginia (next to last in pace in 2021-22) and North Texas (last) played one and three outlier games of 55 possessions or fewer last season. Florida didn’t play a game that slow ever under Mike White, and they were vanishingly rare under even late-period Billy Donovan, whose teams ran less and less over time.
In Oregon State’s other four games this year, the Beavers have been over 70 possessions three times, too. The wading through molasses thing? Probably a fluke.
And so it follows that the Beavers hanging with Duke might have been one, too. Duke shot 36 percent from the field and a miserable 18 percent from three — on 29 attempts! — to nullify a lot of the advantage it obtained from getting almost 50 percent of its available offensive rebounds, which shows up in the box score as the Blue Devils attempting 60 shots to Oregon State’s 43 and only winning by three.
When Oregon State played Portland State last Saturday, it fared far worse in shot differential — the Vikings took 10 more shots (more specifically, 10 more threes) than the Beavers. They also won, 79-66, with Jorell Saterfield pumping in 28 points and Oregon State committing 18 turnovers.
That loss, and three relatively unimpressive wins (Tulsa, Florida A&M, and minuscule NAIA school Bushnell University, which played somewhere between two and three percent of its student body in the form of the nine players who saw the court against the Beavers) before it, were part of why Oregon State even hanging with Duke a day ago was a shock. The Beavers’ spectacular faceplant in 2021-22 — a 3-28 season with an 1-19 mark in Pac-12 play and an 18-game losing streak to close the year one season after an Elite Eight trip that ranks as one of the flukiest of the century — is another good reason to have expected little from Wayne Tinkle’s team this year.
But being competitive with Duke for a whole game is the sort of thing that shakes up expectations, even if Duke isn’t yet a world-conquering force under Jon Scheyer. It marks the Beavers as a team that went toe-to-toe with a talented, skilled roster and did not cower or collapse.
Florida already has a loss to a team like that this year, and Florida Atlantic and Xavier have both proven that the Gators can give up shots and get beaten in so doing. Yes, Colin Castleton should have a field day against a smaller OSU frontcourt, and might want to take out some frustrations after another struggle against Xavier, which limited him to just 10.5 points per game over two meetings in a span of eight months; yes, the emergence of Trey Bonham (17 points per in his last two outings) and sweet shooting of Will Richard (now hitting threes at a 48 percent clip) are also things for the Beavers to deal with.
But Florida has yet to put together a full 40 minutes of excellent basketball, with only its intermittently brilliant rout of Stony Brook’s skeleton crew approaching that. And it’s paid the price for lapses and lackadaisical play in all of its other games.
Stepping up and out of that paradigm and putting the Beavers away — early, preferably, or at least before kickoff of the game most Gators will be paying more attention to on this Friday night — would show significant growth from the Gators, even if Oregon State’s far from a premier opponent.
Not doing that would suggest a season that will seem long and frustrating is before them.