Florida-Florida State hasn’t been much of a rivalry on the hardwood lately, and UF coach Mike White is the first to admit that.
Since White took over the program in 2015, the Gators have lost to the Seminoles four straight times, including two by double-digits in the last two seasons.
“We didn’t even give those guys a game last year,” White said. “It was our worst performance of the year. We’ll watch a lot of it unfortunately as a staff, and then as a team this week.”
Blackshear Jr.’s ability is an x-factor in this season’s matchup
For Florida to beat FSU for the first time since 2013 on Sunday, it’ll need to be physical and more willing to attack the paint.
In the last three contests combined, Florida was outrebounded by 29, and in the two double-digit defeats, shot under 40 percent from the field.
The Seminoles have been known for their size and length and presented a tough matchup for the undersized Gators.
This season may be different, though.
Combine the fact that Florida State lost three of its starters from a year ago with the arrival of graduate transfer forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. for the Gators, and UF arguably has its best chance to defeat FSU for the first time during White’s tenure.
“He gives you the opportunity offensively to play in a variety of ways,” White said, referring to Blackshear Jr. “He scores on the interior, he draws fouls and he can shoot it.”
Florida’s 6-foot-10 Swiss Army Knife has already filled the box score with a double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds) against North Florida. However, despite some of the Seminoles’ departures, they’ll certainly pose a steeper challenge for Blackshear Jr. and Florida.
Nembhard, the three-point shot will be key
While a lot of the attention on Sunday will be in the paint, there will be a marquee matchup on the perimeter between two of the best point guards in the country.
Sophomore Andrew Nembhard will be tasked with defending one of FSU’s top scorers in senior Trent Forrest.
During Florida State’s 63-61 season-opening loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Forrest led the team in scoring with 19, adding two assists and two steals during 39 minutes on the floor. He turned the ball over five times, though, and that’s an area Nembhard has to exploit.
Additionally, Nembhard and the offense will look to keep the pressure on FSU and avoid a performance like the one against North Florida.
The 6-foot-5, Aurora, Ontario, Canada, native, scored just two points (1 of 7 from the floor) in 31 minutes, and the Gators shot just 20 percent (3 of 15) from the three-point line.
Against UNF, Florida was able to overcome those performances, but against the Seminoles, the Gators will need for some of those shots to fall in order to snap the five-game losing streak to their rival.
Follow Evan Lepak on Twitter @evanmplepak. Contact him at [email protected]