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Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Bully ball is the bane of the Gators

Florida has struggled to defend against larger teams through six games of conference play

Scottie Lewis was declared ineligible for health and safety reasons. A timetable for his return is still unclear. Photo from UF-Arkansas game in February 2020.
Scottie Lewis was declared ineligible for health and safety reasons. A timetable for his return is still unclear. Photo from UF-Arkansas game in February 2020.

A glance at the Florida men’s basketball roster, decorated with elite recruits and athleticism, exposes a shortcoming. One that’s a bit too literal.

UF currently has the fourth-shortest team in the SEC, according to KenPom. 

Florida’s diminutive makeup was a strength when it lived in transition against inferior opposition, but against the trees of the SEC, it’s a decided disadvantage. Mississippi State exploited the Gators down low last time out, scoring 52 points in the paint while snagging 21 more rebounds.

The Bulldogs are the sixth tallest team in the country, which compares to Florida’s other SEC losses against Kentucky and Alabama , which rank fifth and 45th in height, respectively. 

The emergence of junior forward Anthony Duruji, who stands at 6 feet, 7 inches, added some fortitude to the Gator front court, but UF remains undersized in about every position.

The most common lineup for Florida consists of juniors Noah Locke, Anthony Duruji and Colin Castleton along with sophomores Tyree Appleby and Tre Mann, according to KenPom. They average out at just 6 feet, 5 inches and leave glaring matchup problems all over the floor.

Florida faces Tennessee Tuesday, which ranks ninth in height, and has five games scheduled against top-100 teams in that category. The Gators will need to resolve their struggles against tall ball clubs in order to keep dreams of an NCAA tournament bid alive.

Cut back on the fouling

Florida made a difficult front-court matchup nearly impossible against MS State over the weekend, because many of its taller players were burdened with early foul trouble. 

Duruji was limited to just three first half minutes after two early fouls, one of which came cheaply on the offensive end. Castleton swatted four shots in the first half but had to be tentative defensively after setting an illegal screen. 

“We have to stop fouling at the end of the day,” Castleton said. “Everybody has to do it. You put yourself in a bad position when your starting four-man can’t be out on the court.”

Florida has size off the bench in 6-foot-10-inch sophomore Omar Payne and 6-foot-7-inch Osayi Osifo. While the duo are serviceable defenders, they’re limited scorers and shouldn’t see the floor for many minutes at a time. 

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Limiting fouls has been a continued point of emphasis for coach Mike White, and Florida’s big men need to heed his advice and keep themselves on the floor.

Team Rebounding

Defensive rebounding has been a continued problem for the Gators, ranking 253rd in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. Lopsided totals on the glass are often blamed on the front court, but rebounding is a team stat and Florida’s guard’s need to rebound as well. 

Five offensive rebounds were claimed from guards over the weekend, which is concerning given the lack of long rebounds. 

UF’s perimeter players were also beaten too easily by dribble penetration, forcing help defense and creating weak-side rebounding opportunities. 

Florida’s run ‘n’ gun style of play is stifled by a concerted effort on the defensive glass, but UF only scored 10 points in transition over the weekend anyways. If the Gators are going to be forced to run their half court sets, they must clean up on the boards. 

Hope for Lewis’ return

Sophomore guard Scottie Lewis was declared ineligible for last Tuesday’s game against Ole Miss for health and safety reasons. A timetable for his return is still unclear. 

Despite standing at just 6 feet, 5 inches, Lewis boasts a 7-feet wingspan and a reputation as an outstanding defender. 

His block percentage (5.5) ranks in the top 150 nationally, and his interior defense from the two and three is outstanding. 

Lewis played just 20 minutes against Alabama and sat out entirely against MS State. While his return won’t completely solve Florida’s interior issues, they’re exacerbated without the Jersey-born superstar. 

Tennessee has manageable size in the front court, with 6-foot-9-inch senior center John Fulkerson as the tallest starter. Even with the continued absence of Lewis, Florida should show improvement and contend with the Volunteers down low Tuesday.

Contact Declan Walsh at dwalsh@alligator.org and follow him on twitter @declanaw



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