Florida Backcourt Key to NCAA Chances

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 11th, 2015

Florida had a chance to make a statement on Tuesday night against a Miami team off to a flying start this season. A road win against an intrastate rival would have given new head coach Mike White his first marquee win since arriving in Gainesville. Florida had some momentum too, coming off a dominant performance in a victory over a solid Richmond team. But in the end, the Gators left south Florida with only another loss and a handful of questions. The most pressing of them: Are the Gators’ guards good enough to get them to the NCAA Tournament?

Florida's back court couldn't keep up with Sheldon McCellan and Angel Rodriguez in a loss to Miami (caneswarning.com).

Florida’s backcourt couldn’t keep up with Sheldon McCellan and Angel Rodriguez in a loss to Miami. (Photo: caneswarning.com)

Sheldon McClellan (24 points) and Angel Rodriguez (17 points) had big scoring nights for Miami but it’s hard to get worked up about great players getting their points. It’s not as hard, however, to expect the Gators’ backcourt to make up some of the difference with scoring on the other end. White said before the game that his team needed to take advantage of its open looks, but this simply didn’t happen — the Gators were 1-of-12 from three on the evening, and their two highest volume three-point shooters in the backcourt (Brandone Francis-Ramirez and KeVaughn Allen) are shooting a combined 20.0 percent from three-point range this season. After the game, White was left scratching his head. “We see it in practice,” he told GatorZone.com. “I don’t think we have a bunch of great shooters, but they’re better than this.” Compounding the shooting problem were several long, contested two-point jumpers from Francis-Ramirez and Allen late in the game when the Gators were desperate for points. Allen managed to convert one of these shots to cut the Miami lead to 10 points, but the Gators are desperately in need of sustainable scoring from their perimeter players.

There’s also the lingering issue of Florida’s point guard play, as Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza combined for just four assists against five turnovers versus Miami. Hill spent an especially frustrating night in foul trouble, picking up fouls on several reckless plays that White couldn’t have been happy with. The Gators’ frontcourt is undeniably talented, but Devin RobinsonJohn Egbunu and Dorian Finney-Smith are not traditional back-to-the-basket post players. Generally speaking, all three are athletic bigs who would benefit greatly from a point guard who can consistently break down a defense to create offense around the rim. Neither Hill nor Chiozza are doing this right now. The jet-quick Hill has always had potential, but he’s now a junior and we are still talking about his potential. At this point in the season, White might be wise to consider using Finney-Smith as a point forward and run sets through him. The senior, who has logged the second most assists on the team this season, has been Florida’s most consistent playmaker.

It’s never too early to talk about the NCAA Tournament for a team that figures to be hanging around the bubble, but it’s hard to imagine Florida beating good teams given the lack of production it is currently getting from the backcourt. Offensive struggles there aside, Florida still has a lot going for it. The Gators defend at an elite level (currently third in defensive efficiency) and the frontcourt trio of Finney-Smith, Robinson and Egbunu is great. Texas A&M may have the personnel to match them and Kentucky will be tough inside with the expected development of Skal Labissiere, but the Gators should have a clear advantage down low in every other SEC game. This should allow Florida to pile up a healthy number of conference wins and stay in the NCAA Tournament discussion until March, but without better guard play, it shouldn’t shock anyone to find the Gators on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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