Kerry Blackshear Jr.

Kerry Blackshear Jr.

The Gators men’s basketball team welcomes No. 1 Baylor to the O’Dome on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, making this the third season in a row that Florida has faced the top team in the country. UF has also never won a regular-season matchup against a No. 1 team, losing its last 13 attempts.

Two of our basketball writers, Evan Lepak and Brendan Farrell, each have one aspect to keep an eye on in UF's game against the Bears.

UF will need to disrupt Baylor’s offensive efficiency

Baylor and Florida are very similar teams on paper, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

According to KenPom, both squads share comparable numbers in offensive efficiency and tempo. The Bears are 25th and 290th, respectively in those categories, and because of this, they rarely turn the ball over. The team is averaging 11.9 per game, which is second-best in the Big 12.

In order for the Gators to win Saturday’s game, their defense will need to be active and disruptive. Initially, the team will have plenty of energy thanks to the expected sell-out crowd at the O’Connell Center, so it’ll be important for Florida to get off to a positive start by controlling the pace of play early.

Another key part of the game on Saturday will be on the glass. Baylor has a long and athletic frontcourt highlighted by 6-foot-9 forward Freddie Gillespie who averages 9.4 boards per game, good for third in the Big 12.

UF big men Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Omar Payne have the height to compete with him, but will that translate under the basket?

On Tuesday, LSU bullied the Gators down low, out-rebounding UF 38-28 and corralling an eye-opening 15 offensive rebounds.

Payne and Blackshear Jr. combined for just nine rebounds, while LSU’s top rebounders (Darius Days and Marlon Taylor) had 19 total.

The Bears are ranked seventh, according to KenPom, in offensive rebounding percentage, and they average 39 total rebounds per game, which is second in the Big 12 behind only West Virginia.

It’s clear that the painted area of the court on Saturday will play a key role in the difference between a Florida win and a Florida loss.

@evanmplepak

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Bearing down on defense

Baylor’s defense comes into Gainesville allowing the sixth-fewest points per game in the country at 58.5. The Bears have allowed an opponent to score at least 65 points four times all season, and Oklahoma State is the only one to hit 60 points in Baylor’s last seven games.

BU’s biggest test of the season came two weeks ago in its road tilt against No. 3 Kansas. The Bears had never won a game in Allen Fieldhouse in program history, but they came away with a dominant 67-55 victory. Baylor’s defense, which ranks 19th in the nation in field-goal percentage (.380), held a strong Kansas offense below 40 percent from the field and forced 14 turnovers.

The Gators have faced four teams currently in the top 30 by KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency and have an even 2-2 record in those games. However, the wins came against Xavier (No. 29) and Auburn (No. 30), while Florida was blown out by two top-20 teams in Florida State (No. 18) and Butler (No. 19).

Baylor is ranked fourth in that metric, making this UF’s biggest test offensively by far. The Gators’ offense, while ugly at times, has been mostly effective this season, ranking 25th in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.

Florida comes into this matchup in its best offensive form of the season, producing at least 70 points in each of its last seven games and 12 of its last 15. But points won’t come easy against Baylor, and an early deficit will be hard to recover from, even on its home court.

@Bfarrell727

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Evan Lepak is a Sports Journalism student at the University of Florida. Evan is the assistant sports editor and is currently covering UF men's basketball. He has been with the Alligator since Summer 2018.