Will Florida Be Middle Tennessee State’s Next SEC Victim?Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 20th, 2013
It was “one in, one out” for Florida last week, as the Gators got Dorian Finney-Smith back from suspension only to lose Kasey Hill to a high ankle sprain two days later. It appears the freshman point guard will be out at least a month, and Billy Donovan has said reserve Scottie Wilbekin will not be back just yet either. That leaves Donovan without a true point guard for Thursday night’s game against Middle Tennessee State, a program that beat both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt last season en route to an NCAA Tournament invitation. Should Florida be on upset alert and wary of being the Blue Raiders’ next SEC victim? It says here that, despite the Gators’ ongoing point guard issues, probably not.
Middle Tennessee State has started the season 4-0, but the two things that can lead less talented teams to upsets — offensive rebounding and three-point shooting — are not this team’s strengths. The Blue Raiders are not a good offensive rebounding team, in particular. Senior forward Shawn Jones is having a good season (16.0 PPG; 9.0 RPG) but his 13.9 percent offensive rebounding rate is the best on the team. Neiko Hunter at 10 percent is the only other player in double figures in that metric. The Blue Raiders face a tall task against a team stocked with frontcourt talent if they can’t generate second-chance opportunities. In that vein, the return of Finney-Smith and his astronomical board numbers (22.4% ORB, 27% DRB) is important for the Gators, and should allow his team to control this game on the glass. The Blue Raiders have been solid from three, shooting 38 percent as a team, but no player other than Kerry Hammonds has yet proven to be a consistent threat, and Florida has been equally good in holding its opponents to 31 percent this season, so this seems like a wash.
A black mark against MTSU’s upset bid is that starting guard Marcus Tarrance is suspended. At 6’6” he would have been an ideal candidate to defend the versatile Casey Prather. Prather and Michael Frazier have excelled in transition this year, and without an initiator of their half-court offense, they’d be served well to run as much as possible. When the game slows, Billy Donovan will have to cobble together a half-court point guard solution among Frazier, DeVon Walker, and even spurts of Finney-Smith.
As it stands, this game could certainly give Florida a scare because as a team it has only logged a 49 to 42 assist/turnover ratio and the Gators have lost their clear-cut best distributor. Still, given their frontcourt talent and the all-SEC form Prather has shown thus far, Billy Donovan’s club should be able to weather the loss of Hill and continued suspension of Wilbekin in this one. This is especially the case because MTSU doesn’t seem to have the requisite ability to generate second-chance points and cash in with threes to spring the big upset. Without Tarrance around to run the show, that will likely be too much for his team to overcome.