1. For the too lazy to Google (everyone at RCT), how is Florida coming along in terms of injuries and Chris Walker's eligibility?
Fortunately for you, we just posted 2,000 words on everything happening in Florida basketball on Monday (editor's note: here's the link), but the gist is this: Florida has eight scholarship players available for Tuesday's game, with just five of those players not dealing with injuries. Wheeeee.
I expect both Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill to play on Tuesday, but I think Wilbekin will be minimally hampered and Hill significantly so. Florida's going to have to rely on its best assets at the moment — often relentless defense, great slashing from Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith, Michael Frazier II's shooting, and offensive rebounding from everyone — rather than superlative play from its point guards.
2. So far Florida is taking the fewest number of threes they ever have under Billy Donovan. Is that a reflection of not having guys like Erik Murphy around, or is it more of a concerted effort to get the ball inside to draw fouls and things like that?
I think it's a product of fewer shooters (Frazier's the only shooter Florida's been able to put at off guard, thanks to injuries keeping Hill and Wilbekin from playing together) and better interior and slashing play. Prather's never been confused for a shooter, so he's done well to refashion his game and take almost entirely leaners, lay-ups, and dunks; Florida's done well to funnel him opportunities to do so. None of the bigs, with the exception of tweener Finney-Smith, is a threat from outside like Murphy was, so it's harder to stretch the floor, making it harder to get the threes that came last year with smart whip-around passing.
I think the two-to-three ratio will get better balanced in time, with Frazier and Wilbekin getting more shots as Florida gets closer to full health, but this team just isn't built to bomb away like previous teams. It's a brave new world for Donovan.
3. Speaking of which, how have the new rules about fouling affected the Gators?
Early on, it felt like the fouling rules were going to make it difficult for Florida to defend like it has since 2012-13 began, with a fair bit of contact and close guarding in the half court, especially from Patric Young and Hill, but everyone's adjusted fairly well to the new rules on defense, and I think refs are gradually getting better at calling games by these new rules (editor's note number 2: I hope we get those refs at some point), which has also helped.
More importantly for Florida, Prather's thriving in this new rules environment, where he forces defenders to either hack him going to the hoop or give him easy shots around the rim. The smart and aggressive slasher is hell on a defense that can't body him up, and Prather's fast and strong enough to be that guy.
4. With the football program struggling by Florida standards, does that have any impact on the basketball program? And on the flipside when they're really good how much if any does that help or hurt?
I think it's helped fan support a little early on this year, because Florida fans need something to pour their hearts into, and basketball's the best thing going at the moment. The crowd at the Florida State game on Black Friday was fantastic, as good as I've ever seen a Florida-FSU crowd, and I'm expecting another big, loud crowd tonight.
When Florida's football team is really good, though, they suck up most of the time, money, and interest of the fan base in the fall. It's no secret that Florida struggles to draw fans for non-conference snoozers, but the crowds are better when fans can spend a little extra cash on the Gators of the hardwood.
Beyond that, though both programs use their counterpart for recruiting synergy, there's not all that much impact.
5. Both of our teams could be undefeated right now, with Kansas losing on a couple late threes and Florida losing a close one in Wisconsin and then on a Shabazz Napier three. With Florida having a poor record in close games last year, and that becoming the narrative about them, how much are you worried about them losing two close ones so far this year?
I was always pretty sanguine about Florida in close games last year, thinking that luck and regression would favor a great team at least once over a long season (nope), but it was easy to be that way with a team that was legitimately great on both ends of the court. This team is less explosive on offense, thanks to the lack of shooting, and has been less effective on defense, thanks mostly to injury, so far.
And yet I'm not all that worried about the close games this year, either. Florida needs to get better from the free throw line to avoid being in close games and better close them out, and ought to work out some better plays for end-of-half situations than Wilbekin isolations, but its two losses came on Traevon Jackson making a killer contested 18-footer and Shabazz Napier getting a lucky rebound that led to a buzzer-beater — and it got a win on an offensive rebound leading to a free throw and an unanswered prayer for Ian Miller. Already, the luck has gotten better!
I will say this: I'm more worried about Florida in a close game over the next two weeks, with Wilbekin and Hill still mending, than I suspect I will be in January and beyond. A point guard who can make multiple things happen opens up the floor substantially in close late-game situations.
6. Lastly, give us a prediction for Tuesday's game.
If this game were at the Phog, I would have very little faith in undermanned Florida pulling off the upset, and my worry, even with the game in Gainesville, is that Andrew Wiggins cancels out Prather (there's really no reason Wiggins shouldn't be on Prather all night) and forces Florida to play left-handed for 40 minutes. (Wisconsin and Kansas have identical KenPom Pythagorean ratings as of Tuesday morning, and I thought Florida had no shot at Wisconsin.)
But I think that crowd is going to be insane, and I would be stunned if Florida doesn't deliver one big run at some point in the game. So give me Florida in a close one, 70-67.