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Game Preview: Florida State at Florida

The Seminoles look to keep the winning streak going over the Gators.

Florida State may play in bigger games this year, but because of how early the Florida matchup is every year, it's a great litmus test as to where FSU is as a team. UF notoriously struggles in early season play, but they have a lot of talent this season and will want to get a win over FSU. 

UF leads this overall series 41-29, but FSU has been hot winning each of the last 7 in this series. Mike White has yet to beat FSU as head coach of Florida, and it's one he'll be desperate to add to his resume. 

This game will tip-off at 1pm from the Stephen O'Connell Center in Gainesville, FL live on ESPN. 

Florida Gators Breakdown

Florida and Florida State play very similar styles of basketball, they just go about it in very different ways. They both run a heavy help defense, with an emphasis on weakside help, both run the same baseline out of bounds defense, and both want to speed the opposing offense up into making mistakes. 

The differences are MASSIVE differences though. Florida's guards are known as scorers first, all of Florida State's guards are defense-first, save for Caleb Mills and maaaybe Jalen Warley. Florida runs a tight 7-man rotation for the most part, while FSU wants to play 10-11 guys every game. Florida's offense runs through the big and the plays he can create while FSU has a heavy motion, heavy pick-and-roll offense. FSU has athletes and size up and down the roster, while Florida is more based on their shot making from the perimeter and doesn't have elite level athleticism. 

We'll start with their defense, and talk more about their offense as we do player breakdowns. Florida wants to keep offenses from reversing court as much as possible. They feel if they can keep things on one side of the court, they have higher chance of slowing down that possession. On ball screens, the defender often turns with the direction of the screen to force the ball-handler away from the screen and get them downhill. For example: 

First. UF starts in a soft 2-2-1 press, just to try and get the offensive to speed up into a mistake. You'll see Mike White flash "22" whenever he wants them to run this press. Then as soon as Elon crosses half-court, they immediately get a ball screen. Colin Castleton recognizes it and lets the on-ball defender know which way to flip his hips, and Elon gets downhill. As he's going downhill, he has his defender in his hip pocket, with a weakside defense coming to help. FSU's ball handlers are going to have to make very smart decisions in these situations all game. In this instance, the ball-handler should've gone up for the finish, but he figured he was going to be blocked from behind and passes it off. It ends up bounding into the right hands, but it was still a poor decision. 

This is what you want to happen. 

Even if the result is a missed shot, you take that kind of look 10 times out of 10. Imagine if that's Anthony Polite in that corner instead. There may even be instances where the wing defender drops down to the corner when the corner defender crashes to help. Ball handlers are really going to have to be on their A-game to recognize where help is coming from. 

It's an overall really aggressive defense and they have the defenders to make it work. I don't think it's a perfect scheme against a team like FSU that has a plethora of athletic guards and wings, but it requires offenses to make split-second decisions which can really hurt an inexperienced team. 

Colin Castleton is one of the most annoying players FSU will play all season, but he's extremely skilled. Has fantastic post footwork, can finish over either shoulder with hooks and reach-around layups, can put the ball on the floor to drive, and can be extremely physical while he gets to his spots. Florida State will want him to put the ball on the floor; he had 5 turnovers against Elon because he was just putting the ball on the floor too much. Now he's going against a very opportunistic defense in Florida State, who is going to attack every time he dribbles. 

On defense, he's quick to react to drivers and defend the rim, even if he's originally all the way up at the perimeter, forcing a ball-handler away from the middle of the floor. His 6 blocked shots against Elon show the kind of anchor he can be defensively. When FSU drives to the rim, they're going to have to go up STRONG. No soft lay-ups, no floaters. Get to the rim and punch the ball through the rim as much as possible. 

Here's an example of a couple of things Florida will try and do to get Castleton some touches, where they just get him the ball and clear: 

Myreon Jones transfers over from Penn State where he was a 15 PPG scorer and a 40% 3-point shooter over the last two seasons. He's a dangerous shot maker, and is essentially the fully idealized version of Noah Locke, who transferred away after last season: a smaller guard who can create for himself and be an elite scorer and 3-point threat. Locke never got the ball-handling part down, and became an almost exclusive 3-point shooter, Jones can hurt teams from all 3 levels of the court, and FSU is going to have to be physical with him to force him out of a rhythm. He's going to get 10-12 shot attempts, FSU just has to focus on making them as tough as they can be. 

Tyree Appleby comes back to Gainesville this year with a much bigger role at point guard with Tre Mann leaving to the NBA, and is hoping to get off to a better start this season. Over his first 9 games last season, he was in single digits 5 times; over the final 16 games, he was in single digits just twice. He really struggled against Florida State last year, going just 2-for-7 from the field and 5 turnovers. He's a player that is prone to some turnovers against athletic teams: 7 against Arkansas, 5 against FSU, and 5 against Kentucky, just to name a few. 

Two of Florida's key transfers were Defensive Players of the Year in their respective conferences: Phlandrous Fleming (Charleston Southern, Big South Conference) and Brandon McKissic (Missouri-Kansas City, Summit League). Despite both standing about 6’3”, they’re very strong physically and can really get after it on the defensive side of the ball. 

Fleming isn’t the most efficient scorer so far in his career, but he can fill it up. He averaged 17+ PPG each of the last two seasons, but only shot 41.9% from the floor and 28.7% from 3. He was able to take advantage of smaller conferences, so I'm curious to see how he does against a much taller, more physical team. 

McKissic is a more natural scorer though. He saw an uptick in scoring last year, going to 17 points per game, and his percentages stayed the same despite taking about 50% more shots. He’s a career 48.3% from the floor and 38.1% from 3. Combining him with Appleby and Jones gives a dangerous attack on the perimeter who can all score in multiple ways. 

Anthony Duruji is more athlete than he is anything, though he’s off to a good start this season. He’s only missed 1 shot through the one regular season game and two exhibition games. He plays a similar role to Malik Osborne, who is going to crash the glass hard even if he’s going to mainly play the 4. They’ll run the occasional set for him to try and get him a lob at the rim, like the play below. 

UF runs these little rub actions frequently to get looks at the rim for a lot of players, it's not just Duruji. You can see the man in the top corner start to cheat up to get his defender out of weakside help, opening up that passing lane even more. Because Florida State switches everything, they should be able to stop a lot of these actions as long as the post defender has enough awareness to see it happen. 

The only other main player they have is CJ Felder, who comes over from Boston College. I was always a big fan of him and his versatility, but he makes a lot of mental mistakes. He only played 12 minutes the other night against Elon, so who knows how big of a role he’ll play against FSU; they could use his size though at 6’7”. He averaged close to 10 points per game at BC last year. 

There are a couple of other players who you’ll see log some minutes, like Tuongthach Gatkek and Jason Jitoboh, but those two are mainly just big bodies who are extremely raw. If they check in, that’s when FSU can give their own main bigs a breather and sub in either Naheem McLeod or Quincy Ballard.

Last Game Stats: PTS, RBS (ORBs/DRBs), ASTS, STLS, BLKS/TOs    FG%/3pt%/FT%

#12 Colin Castleton 18, 5 (2/3), 4, 1, 6, 5           63.6/NA/40.0

#0 Myreon Jones 18, 6 (3/3), 3, 1, 0, 1               46.2/50.0/66.7

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#22 Tyree Appleby 14, 3 (0/3), 3, 0, 0, 4            50.0/60.0/100

#4 Anthony Duruji 10. 7 (4/3), 1, 1, 1, 0              80.0/50.0/50.0

#24 Phlandrous Fleming 4, 2 (0/2), 1, 1, 2, 0     20.0/0.0/66.7

#23 Brandon McKissic 4, 3 (1/2), 1, 2, 0, 0         20.0/0.0/100

#1 CJ Felder 2. 3 (3/0), 0, 0, 0, 0                        25.0/0.0/NA

#20 Florida State Seminoles Breakdown

Florida State looked incredible on Wednesday night against Penn, especially defensively. When you can force a team to not even get a shot attempt up on 1/3 of their possessions, you're doing something right. FSU won't force 26 turnovers every night, but if they're consistently in that 15-18 turnovers range, they're going to be really tough to beat. 

The next step for this team is just going to be them making their shots. There were some first game jitters for a lot of players and they weren't making shots we'll be expecting them to make. I don't expect Caleb Mills to miss his first five shots again, and I don't expect them to have many nights of 13 points through 8 minutes. This team has talented shooters up and down the roster and open looks were being generated, they just have to make the shots. 

FSU has a massive size advantage over Florida for this game. UF's starting 3 guards of Appleby, Jones, and McKissic are all shorter than Florida State's shortest rotation player in RayQuan Evans, and UF isn't that athletic of a team without Keyontae Johnson. The one problem area is going to be Colin Castleton. He's an extremely skilled post player that could eat FSU's 7-footers alive. Malik Osborne has the physicality and size to push him off of his spots, but if he gets in foul trouble and Ngom can't play, FSU is going to have to find ways to slow Castleton down. 

You can't overhelp too much because Florida has a few really good shooters that can make you pay if given the space. It's going to be a chess match of a game with a lot of adjustments throughout the game. 

Injury Report

Tanor Ngom missed Wednesday night's game against Penn with a concussion, and the staff isn't sure when he'll be back; he wasn't even at the game as far as I could tell. His status will be doubtful for me until we here otherwise. 

Keyontae Johnson will be out for this game and the foreseeable future after collapsing on the court last season against FSU. 

Projected Starters

Florida

G: Tyree Appleby

G: Myreon Jones

G: Brandon McKissic

F: Anthony Duruji

F: Colin Castleton

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: Caleb Mills

G: Anthony Polite

F: Wyatt Wilkes

F: Malik Osborne

3 Keys to the Game

Help, But Don't Overhelp

This applies mainly to situations where Florida clears out a side to let Colin Castleton operate on the block. They way FSU usually plays these is the weakside corner help is going to stop on the strongside block to give the post defender some extra help. What can't happen is everyone sinking down far enough to allow for easy catch-and-shoot 3s. Appleby and Jones especially are lethal shooters if given the chance. 

A lot of the rub actions that Florida runs to get easy looks at the rim should be slowed by FSU's switching everything scheme. They'll be able to talk a lot of it out, and as long as they're communicating defensively, they should be fine with a lot of these actions. 

Physicality

Florida can be out-athleted. If FSU plays defense like they did against Penn where they're just in your face for 40 minutes, Florida may have some issues moving the ball. Both teams can crash the offensive boards effectively, so FSU is going to have to be much better with boxing out than we've seen the last couple of seasons, and that all comes with physicality. FSU's energy was infectious Wednesday night, now they will need to show a toughness to keep Florida from getting second chance points. 

Look For Skip Passes

Because Florida runs a no-middle, heavy help defense, they can overreact when a ball-handler does get middle, their weakside help can overreact and come crashing a little too hard. When they do come crashing, FSU should have shooters set up in the corner and on the wing waiting for open skip passes. These are passes they routinely practice, and they're going to have to show some precision. 

When those passes aren't open, ball-handlers have to go up STRONG to the rim. No soft layups and floaters, you have to go to the rum with a purpose, otherwise Florida will have three defenders meet you at the rim. 

Game Prediction

Florida opened as 2.5-point favorites, with an over/under of 144.5. 

I shouldn't be surprised Florida is favored given how much it's happened over the course of FSU's winning streak over UF, but it still doesn't make much sense. Florida is unranked, FSU is ranked, and FSU has won seven straight in this series. In fact, Florida has been favored in 4 of the last 7 games against FSU, making this 5 of the last 8. ESPN's BPI gives UF a 68.8% chance of winning this game.

I just think FSU has Florida figured out. They've shown it year after year that they can find different ways to beat this UF team no matter who the players are. FSU is a much deeper team, a much bigger team, and a much more athletic team. They'll want to wear down Florida as much as possible, because I'm expecting this to be a closeAs long as they're not allowing Florida to dictate the glass, I like FSU to get their 8th straight win over Florida. 

FSU 68, Florida 63