While tonight's game might not be the marquee matchup it looked to be in the preseason, this will still be a tough test for the Jayhawks. To learn more about our opponent, I turned to Andy Hutchins, from Alligator Army. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: Coming into the season, the Gators were ranked No. 7 in both polls. Did this ranking align with your expectations for the season? After losing three games to teams that appear to be on course for decent/good seasons, have you seen anything that makes your expectations change? Obviously the preseason ranking was a little high, but is there any cause for concern about Florida competing for the second spot in the conference behind Kentucky?
AA: As far as finish was concerned? Yeah. This team has the talent to make an Elite Eight run, I think.
However, I also think those expectations were a little too rosy, especially because Florida's not even close to the seventh-best team in the nation right now, and because I forgot to factor in the ghouls that haunt Florida early in seasons year in and year out. The Gators have been fine on defense, but struggle mightily to score, especially when their shots aren't falling, and that's been a frequent occurrence.
I'm not yet worried about Florida's place in the SEC, largely because the rest of the non-Kentucky SEC looks pretty average as of right now, with Arkansas maybe excepted, but Florida's certainly got to improve to make that a likelihood rather than a possibility.
RCT: With Michael Frazier being the lone returning starter this year, this makeup of this team is virtually unknown. Who has exceeded expectations so far this year, and who needs to put in more work in the gym to get back to where they need to be?
AA: The funny thing is that literally every Florida player has exceeded my expectations at least once, with the exceptions of Devin Robinson and Chris Walker, whose failures to exceed expectations are more on me than them.
Kasey Hill struggled early, but played really well against UAB and North Carolina; Frazier's shown a complete game from time to time; Eli Carter, when fully healthy, was deadly; Chris wasis capable of being a fantastic third guard off the bench; Jon Horford is capable of 15 and 10 on great nights, and should be closer to 10 and 7 on most; Dorian Finney-Smith really seems to have polished his game, and was very good in Florida's opener before getting hurt; Jacob Kurtz, who is a walk-on, should not be able to hold his own against big-time teams, and yet he has.
There's a lot to be optimistic about and pleased with, at least individually. It's the team that worries me.
RCT: I think it's pretty safe to say that despite Kansas' struggles this year, they are going to be favored to win this game. Which player has the ability to put this Florida team on its back and carry the Gators to victory?
AA: I think it's Walker. Kansas's success to this point has been able getting offensive boards and getting to the foul line, and Walker's Florida's best bet for preventing both by being a rim protector. If he decides that he wants to make some serious money by impressing against a good Kansas frontcourt, Florida might just spring an upset.
RCT: What weaknesses does this Gators team have? Will Kansas be able to advantage with their size down low?
AA: Shooting and interior play. Florida's shooting under 30 percent from three, and under 45 percent from the field, so easy shots or someone getting hot are what the Gators desperately want, and it's unclear who would get hot outside of Frazier; Florida has two players who are traditional forwards, and I'm stretching "traditional" to include Chris Walker.
RCT: What will be the key matchup to this game?
AA: Do I sound too much like a broken record if I say it's Walker against the Kansas frontcourt, and specifically Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander? Because it is.
Hill vs. Frank Mason is a fine undercard, and if Hill and/or Chiozza destroys Mason like Scottie Wilbekin and Hill did Kansas's guards last season, then Florida is going to have a damn good chance of getting a win. But I think Florida can win at point and get crushed inside and still lose.
RCT: Finally, what is your prediction for the game? Do the Gators come into Allen Fieldhouse and be just the 10th team (and 5th non-conference opponent) to give the Jayhawks a loss at home?
AA: I think Florida loses, but close. Also, is that, like, an all-time record? Only nine teams have ever beaten Kansas in the Phog? That can't be true, can it?
Ed note: The questions I originally sent didn't have "under Bill Self at the end like in intended. Obviously Kansas has lost more than 10 games total at home during the history of Allen Fieldhouse.
A big thanks to Andy for helping me out. With breaking news on the football front the last few days at both schools, I'm not sure if I'm going to get the chance to answer any questions for him, but I'll let you know if they come along.