The primary plot of Florida’s men’s basketball team meeting with Ohio in Tampa on this Wednesday night (7 p.m., ESPN2) is obvious: The Gators are recovering from a thumping by UConn a week ago, and probably need to win games like this one to prevent a non-conference schedule marred by losses to NCAA Tournament aspirants from becoming one with those losses and one to a likely Tourney exclusion.
The subplots, of playing in Tampa and against yet another team of stellar shooters, may be more interesting.
For Florida, this experience of playing a regular-season game in Tampa for the first time in six years seems probable to have been better experienced by a better team. These Gators are getting not just valuable practice for an away-from-home setting through this short-range travel and setup in an unusual gym, but for an in-state, out-of-Gainesville game of significance — like, say, an NCAA Tournament game in Orlando, which will host first- and second-round play next March.
Alas, Florida has much work to do to earn an NCAA Tournament berth — and might need to do something Herculean from here to get sent to Orlando.
Playing a squad that poses dangers from deep seems more relevant.
Ohio — which has defeated Youngstown State by buzzer-beater, gone to overtime with Michigan, and lost to both Belmont and Detroit Mercy over its uneven 5-4 start — is reliant on production from the three-point line, getting almost 37 percent of its points from threes. And the Bobcats’ standout statistic is their second-to-worst No. 362 placement in Division I in free throw rate, the ratio of free throws attempted to field goals attempted; they are far, far more likely to take a bunch of jump shots than try to score on Colin Castleton at the rim.
And they’re also pretty good at the shooting thing: Four Ohio players have 11 or more threes on the year, three of those players are shooting 35 percent or better from beyond the arc, and Ben Roderick has been superb, making 12 of his 22 threes to rank in the nation’s top 20 in accuracy. Ohio’s made six or more threes in each game, and nine or more six times — going 5-1 in those contests. Jaylin Hunter (35 percent from three) has a lot to do with that, as he’s been an excellent distributor for the Bobcats, notching seven assists four times in nine games and at least four in six of nine.
Florida has, uh, struggled at times to defend the three-point line. Apart from its lockdown of Stetson, which hit just four of 17 threes against the Gators — then bombed Webber International for 15 triples in its only game since — Florida has held just two opponents under 35 percent shooting from three.
So it’s the same old song and scouting report this evening: If Florida can limit threes, it should have the athleticism and scoring to handle a team that will be playing shorter, smaller, and likely less physically dominant players at most positions.
If it can’t, that same long is going to seem longer and longer.