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Florida vs. Missouri, Game Thread: Gators seek a winning streak

The Gators welcome another first-year coach to Gainesville.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Florida’s 2022-23 men’s basketball season has largely been one of romps over weaker competition and tough games producing rough losses. Missouri’s, on the other hand, has been all about romps.

The Tigers come to Gainesville under Dennis Gates for the first time this Saturday hoping that they can rebound from their first stretch of two losses in three games this year against the Gators. Their spectacular offense — fourth nationally in efficiency and two-point field goal percentage, and helped substantially by inside-out threats like Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge — will run into Florida’s sturdy defense in that effort, and might run aground as a result.

See, Missouri’s mostly eviscerated its competition, piling up seven double-digit wins and earning two of them against Illinois and Kentucky. But it’s also been outclassed by both Kansas and Texas A&M, teams with as much or more talent than the impressive roster that Gates has assembled in Columbia that have been able to mostly avoid the turnovers fueling the Tigers’ offense and do their own damage. Both the Jayhawks and Aggies posted better than a 64 percent effective field goal percentage against Mizzou, and feasted inside and out.

And they’re not the only teams that have shot well against Missouri, with Southern Indiana, Penn, Wichita State, and Southeast Missouri State all managing to top 60% eFG%. Illinois and Arkansas have also both managed to rebound half or more of their misses against a team that has been woeful at keeping defensive rebounds — a product, no doubt, of trying to push the ball in transition — all year.

Those weaknesses unfortunately match Florida’s spots of futility well, with the Gators being a poor shooting team without much offensive rebounding success and a sometimes suspect transition defense. The Gators should be comfortable at pace, however, and have the sorts of athletes who could hamper any of the mostly undersized but swift Tigers lineups Gates — who knows Florida well, having spent years at Florida State as an assistant under Leonard Hamliton — will roll out.

If Colin Castleton and Alex Fudge can limit Brown, who is having a season made for All-SEC honors, then Florida should have a chance to string together a win streak with a third straight SEC triumph. But if the Gators come out with one of their customary slow starts, these ferocious Tigers might dig a hole too deep to vault out of.