Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
There are a number of really good games on the schedule for today, but the most interesting might just be the big cross-state rivalry game between #41 Florida (6-1) and #42 Florida State (7-1). These two teams are nearly dead even in my rankings, and the game should be a good one.
Florida is making its first venture on to an opponents’ home court, having won four games in Gainesville along with neutral site games in Orlando and Kansas City. Their only loss came in the semifinal of the CBE Classic, as they were just edged out by Syracuse in a very entertaining game. Florida St. was cruising at 7-0 entering their ACC-Big Ten challenge game with Northwestern, which ended up in a decisive Seminole loss. That 7-0 was not a particularly strong one, though, as it included two-point wins over Jacksonville and Stetson, a three-point win over Cal and a four-point win at La Salle.
Florida St.’s offense has been the reason why they have found themselves in so many close games, as they have struggled even against some pretty weak opponents. The Seminoles’ major problem is turnovers, as they give the ball up one out of every four times down the court. While they could still potentially have an above-average offense, even with their ball control problems, they just don’t shoot well enough to do that, as they are only average on those possessions they do turn into shots. Given that Florida has been one of the better teams in the nation in forcing turnovers, this could really cause a lot of problems for Florida St. However, a hitch in the plan for the Gators has been their own very weak shooting defense. While they have made up for it with turnovers, the Gators’ opponents have had a field day scoring inside, something that was quite evident in the Washington game. One area where the Seminoles have been excellent is at the line, as they get there often and shoot pretty well.
Florida’s offense hasn’t been much of a problem, as they have scored at a solid clip, with an outside oriented attack that really thrives on the inside, as the Gators are among the nation’s leaders in two-point percentage. However, Florida St. is probably the best interior defense that the Gators have faced to date, and it may very well be this battle for inside scoring that will settle the game. Defensively, Florida St. don’t do anything else great, but they don’t have any real weaknesses to probe either
No two other players on the Florida St. roster combine to have as many shots as senior guard Toney Douglas, and so it comes as no surprise that he is easily the team’s leading scorer. Considering the volume of shots he takes, he’s been pretty effective so far, thanks to shooting 41% from behind the arc, which is a good improvement from his numbers last year. The second most effective Seminole typically doesn’t even start, as Uche Echefu has come off the bench to shoot the best eFG% of qualifying ACC players. While he doesn’t take many shots, Echefu has been very effective, and has averaged over 10 points per game. One drawback for both players is turnovers, as they both produce far too many to be comfortable with. Florida St.’s interior defense has depended on a rotation of players, as Ryan Reid, along with freshmen Chris Singleton and 7-1 Solomon Alabi, patrol the inside. Singleton has been pretty effective in his playing time so far, but struggles with foul trouble, fouling out of 4 of the 7 games the Seminoles have played. Alabi typically doesn’t have this problem, but he rarely plays more than 20 minutes, though he is fairly effective when he does play. Another freshman, guard Luke Loucks has been useful off the bench, producing some good rebounding and assist numbers.
Nick Calathes has had an excellent start to his season, leading the SEC in assists and having an excellent A/TO ratio, while at the same time shooting a some very nice percentages. Calathes had a triple-double last season, and while he likely won’t pull that feat off in this game, he does have that potential, thanks to his solid rebounding, helped by his 6-6 frame. When Calathes has picked up those assists, often its been moving the ball inside that’s done it, as the next three top scorers are all forwards. Alex Tyus really broke out with 24 against Syracuse, and has generally been good all year, shooting 62% from the field and averaging 5 boards and a block. Junior forward Dan Werner was a bit player on the second national championship team, but has stepped up his play so far this season, shooting almost 50% from the field and hitting a good number of threes as well. The third main forward is Chandler Parsons, who is the hottest right now, averaging 16 points in the last two games. He’s had the toughest time of the three from the field so far, but he’s also been the best at the line. Erving Walker and Walter Hodge join Calathes in the backcourt, and both distribute the ball solidly, though neither really shoots too well.
I’ve gone back and forth on this one while writing up this preview. These are two close teams, and Florida St. holds the momentum in the series, having not lost to Florida in Tallahassee in 6 years. Also, Florida’s shooting defense is really very poor, and they haven’t played a true road game yet. On the other hand, Florida St.’s stinker against Northwestern, along with their offensive stuttering against teams like Jacksonville and La Salle gives me pause. Essentially, it comes down to this. I could see Florida racing away with this game, scorching the Seminole defense and leaving them floundering with turnovers. I can’t see the same thing from Florida St., as I think even if they can take advantage of the Gators defense, they’ll be turning the ball over too often to a good offense to really get a big run going. Maybe the Seminoles will surprise me, but I think Florida has the better chance of getting that decisive second-half run, and so I’ll make them my choice for a narrow win.
Winner: Florida Margin: 3-7
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.