Since returning to action on Dec. 30, 2020, following the brief hiatus for the Gators men’s basketball team, Florida has won both contests and started its conference schedule out hot.
Taking down the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville by a commanding 91-72 score, then outlasting LSU at home 83-79, the Gators have started to gain some much-needed momentum going forward.
Hitting the road yet again for a battle with the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa Tuesday night at 7, Florida looks to continue their hot streak to take down an explosive Alabama team.
With the game-deciding who has the opportunity to run the early season table in the SEC, excitement for two preseason afterthoughts loom large.
Here are three things to watch for.
Guard Play: Tre Mann vs. Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly
As the game of basketball increasingly becomes more demanding for point guards, the presence of a good one on the roster grows paramount to be a legitimate contender.
In this matchup, both teams meet that criteria.
For the Gators, following the transfer of Andrew Nembhard to Gonzaga following the 2019-20 season, sophomore Tre Mann stepped into the starting lineup and has thrived in the role.
As a result of his playstyle, Mann is better equipped to play the lead role in the up pace tempo coach Mike White likes to employ. Since entering as a starter, Mann’s multi-faceted skillset has exponentially aided the Gators in the scoring department.
Withholding skills both as a shooter and facilitator, his ability to create opportunities for points has shown up both in his play and on the stat sheet. Leading Florida in points (15.2), rebounds (5.5), and assists per game (4), the Gators game literally runs through Mann.
On the other side, Alabama sports a combo of guards, Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly, that each brings something different to the table.
Shackelford, tied as the leading scorer on the Crimson Tide, is a matchup problem for nearly any opponent attempting to guard him.
Sporting a smooth lefty stroke and range, his ability to knock down shots aids an already talented three-point shooting team.
So far this season, Shackelford—6-foot-3, 200-pounds—has accounted for 13 points despite being just 37.9 percent from the floor, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.8 points per game.
As a talented guard, Shackelford lacks consistency. Therefore, Bama rotates their primary ball handlers quite frequently.
Quinerly, who plays in Shackelford's relief, is a redshirt sophomore transfer from Villanova, where he played in 25 games for the Wildcats in the 2018-19 season averaging 3.2 points and 0.9 assists in nine minutes per game.
Sitting out last season due to transfer rules, Quinerly has stepped into the lineup for the Crimson Tide and currently co-leads the team in points (13) and leads outright in assists (3.4) per game, despite coming off the bench in the last two contests.
Shooting 48 percent from the floor, the sophomore from New Jersey adds a bit more efficiency to the unit.
With the Gators marching into enemy territory, halting the production from the guard spot looks to be an important game plan for both units.
Bama’s ability to shoot from the perimeter
Knock. Down. Shooters.
Despite rather inadequate numbers from the group as a whole, shooting a combined 31.8% from deep, the explosive ability from the group is without question.
Led by senior guard John Petty Jr.—who averages 12.7 points on 42.9 percent from the floor—has knocked down twenty treys’s already this season.
Entering the year ranked fourth in school history for three points made, Petty has carried on his legacy and currently sits ten three-point buckets away from number one in the record books.
Aside from Petty, forward Herbert Jones—and team leader in rebounds—shoots 50 percent from behind the arc and sits as one of the four Crimson Tide to average double digits.
Limiting the impact behind the arc will be a focal point for the Gators in Tuscaloosa. If they are unable to, combatting those copious amounts of points with performances from Noah Locke and Tre Mann will be vital to UF’s success.
The winner becomes the leader in the SEC standings
On a collision course for early-season prominence in the SEC.
With the Tide winning four of its last five contests and being fresh off an upset over the then-seventh ranked Tennessee Volunteers, Alabama comes into the matchup at 2-0 in conference play on the season. Similarly, Florida has taken down their first two conference opponents in Vanderbilt and LSU to move to atop the SEC standings.
What has carried the load for each team to this point has been rather different from the norms to start the season.
Florida, a usually stout defensive team that experiences stagnancy offensively, has thrived off their efficiency on the offensive end to this point in the season.
Leading the SEC field goal percentage at 50.6 percent shooting on the year, the Gators have turned a historically abysmal offense into the best the conference has to offer simply by altering their philosophy from a half-court style to a fast-paced tempo.
Meanwhile, Alabama—who reigns synonymous for barrages of offensive genius—ranks second in the conference in scoring defense (63.5) and leads the league in field goal percentage defense (32.8 percent) and three-point field goal percentage defense (14.7 percent).
Recipes for success have changed, but both squads' futures in the early portion of the season look bright.