In a basketball world shifting toward guard play, Wednesday's contest is all about the big men.
The Florida Gators enter into enemy territory for the first time this season today to take on the one-loss Oklahoma Sooners.
Starting the season out 6-0 with two impressive victories over quadrant one teams in Florida State and Ohio State, the Gators are rolling behind a stingy defense and well-distributed scoring attack. Having at least four players score double-digit points in all of their games this season, Florida has operated efficiently in the new five-out offense head coach Mike White has employed this season.
Showcasing consistent ball movement and unselfishness to find good looks on the perimeter or create opportunities to attack the basket in dribble-drive, the Gators' offense is clicking at a higher level than it has in recent memory.
Shooting up nine spots to No. 14 in the latest AP Poll, Florida finds itself on the road for the first time this season with a target on its back.
Traveling to Norman, Oklahoma, for a Big 12 versus SEC showdown with the Sooners, White's squad looks to continue their reign of dominance defensively to extend their win streak to seven to begin the year.
While the guard play will serve as complementary for both squads – with the Sooners leaning on Umoja Gibson and Jordan Goldwire while Florida looks to the likes of Myreon Jones, Tyree Appleby, Brandon McKissic and Phlandrous Fleming Jr. for their backcourt production – this contest is an old-fashioned battle of the bigs.
The Gators main focus will be stopping center Tanner Groves.
Playing for Eastern Washington in the past three seasons – including a 35-point performance in the NCAA Tournament against Kansas in 2020 – Groves leads the Sooners with 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game through seven games.
Groves, who is 6-foot-10, 235 pounds, is a towering and grounded presence in the middle. Playing him is a daunting task that requires 40 minutes of constant pressure and physicality.
Groves set to battle with Florida's center Colin Castleton in the paint, who's averaging 14.8 points, ten rebounds and nearly three blocks per game so far this season. The two are relatively evenly matched with Castleton standing one inch taller at 6-foot-11 and just four pounds lighter at 231 pounds than Groves.
A significant component of Florida's aforementioned offensive success is the large strides taken by Castelton in year two with the program. He has added the ability to know down mid-range and long-range jump shots to his already well-versed arsenal, forcing defenses to respect him as a shooter.
In return, open lanes for slashers are created.
Simultaneously, he can now attack off the dribble, making him that much more dangerous to attack the basket even when he takes possession of the ball at the top of the key.
Castleton holds the upper hand in footwork around the basket, rebounding and shot-blocking, while Groves is a pure and efficient scorer who utilizes his power and silky smooth jump shot to win at all three levels offensively.
As a result, points in the paint and the winner on the boards will play a vital role in the game's outcome. Simply put, Castleton must return to his early-season form. He has to outplay Graves for the Gators to get their third quad one win, first on the road and seventh-straight victory to begin the season.
The Gators and Sooners tip-off at the Lloyd Noble Center at 8 p.m.
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