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Hoops Preview: Florida is young and without any major weaknesses

Missouri has quite a task ahead of itself. The Gators may be young, but are good to average in almost all areas of the floor.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

We always knew the beginning of the SEC schedule was going to be tough. We were just hoping that Missouri would be able to weather the storm admirably. We still are.

Missouri is currently 0-2 in conference play, which isn’t exactly a death sentence upon first glance. Kentucky and Tennessee are both good to above-average teams, and there’s no shame in losing to them. However, the Tigers haven’t looked great in either game. After a three-game winning streak to end non-conference play (albeit with two wins against Southern Illinois and Chicago State), Missouri fans were hoping the Tigers would at least be able to manage a win or two in the opening five games of the conference slate (Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi State and Alabama). Of course, the Tigers have dropped the first two, including the easiest match up of the five: Tennessee at home. Now, KenPom projects the Tigers to drop three more games before a home date with Texas A&M.

Times are tough in Columbia.

That being said, it’s not as if times are exactly dire. Sure, they’re close to it. But in the SEC, any one win against a contender can set you up for a run of success, and no contender is above an upset. Enter Florida.

The Gators are currently the conference’s third-best team (by KenPom and standings), and will more than likely represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. They’re a prestigious program that will always get the benefit of the doubt against Missouri.

However, it’s not as if Florida isn’t vulnerable. The Gators are one of the nation’s youngest teams (344th in average experience), and have dropped similar games to Missouri — they lost by 14 to Butler and dropped a game to Utah State on a neutral court. No, it’s not as bad as Charleston Southern, but you won’t likely find anyone with a loss as bad as that.

The point is this: Florida is a very good team. As you’ll read soon (and as you read in the headline), they’re a team without any major weaknesses. Winning will be tough, even with a game time that should be primed to bring fans to Mizzou Arena (editor’s note- Mother Nature, be kind). However, it’s not impossible. And a win against Florida could be just the confidence booster Missouri needs, one that reminds them that they’re not too far gone in the chase for another tournament bid.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (8-6) Florida (10-4)
Position Missouri (8-6) Florida (10-4)
PG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Andrew Nembhard (So., 6'5", 193)
CG Mark Smith (Jr., 6'5", 220) Noah Locke (So., 6'3", 207)
WING Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Scottie Lewis (Fr., 6'5", 185)
PF Mitchell Smith (Jr., 6'10", 221) Keyontae Johnson (So., 6'5", 231)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Kerry Blackshear Jr. (Sr., 6'10", 241)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

In the SEC, Kentucky has the reputation as the shelter for freshmen and sophomore stars. However, 2019-2020 Florida is making a strong case.

The Gators are, of course, led by Virginia Tech transfer and future NBA forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. Blackshear has been exactly what Florida expected him to be, as the senior averages nearly a double-double while sporting a 61.2 true shooting percentage. Most notably, Blackshear has turned himself into a foul magnet, drawing almost seven and a half fouls per 40 minutes and hitting 83 percent of his free throws. Sounds troublesome for a foul-prone Missouri team, no?

Blackshear is far from the Gators only threat, though. Sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard owns a Top 50 assist rate in the country and is almost always on the floor — he plays nearly 86 percent of available minutes. He’s not an elite shooter (34.6% from three), but the Gators don’t need him to be. Instead, they turn to sophomores Keyontae Johnson (36.4%) and Noah Locke (38.3%). Johnson is also good for a nearly 60 percent two-point percentage as well.

Freshman Scottie Lewis rounds out the starting rotation, and the former five-star has turned into a defensive specialist rather quickly — his 5.9 block percentage is second on the team, while his 3.0 steal percentage is first. While he’s not an efficient shooter yet, he does boast a 50 percent free throw rate and shoots almost 77 percent from the line.

Off the bench, Mike White runs with a four-man group, including three more freshmen. Ques Glover and Tre Mann are a bit spotty on the offensive end, but are more than willing to go get their own shots — both take about 24 percent of the available shots when they’re on the floor. Omar Payne takes reserve minutes inside and has even earned himself some starts recently. At 6’10”, Payne sports a hefty block percentage and makes about 60 percent of his shots. Junior Dontay Bassett rounds out the rotation and doesn’t seem to offer a lot of production, but be wary — last time I wrote something similar, Jalen Johnson from Tennessee had a hot shooting night and won KenPom’s MVP against the Tigers.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Florida Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 102.3 (132) 18 (261) 48.9 (192) 21.4 (281) 31 (86) 31 (195) 30.5 (280) 51.1 (105) 73.3 (91) 9.7 (238) 8.3 (86)
Florida 90.5 (31) 17.8 (287) 44.8 (36) 19.1 (184) 26.3 (100) 34.1 (225) 29.6 (49) 45.1 (65) 69.2 (144) 10.3 (107) 9.3 (157)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky
Mark Smith has failed to score in double-digits in three of his last four games. Can he rebound against a solid Florida defense?
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Will anyone spark the offense?

This is the first time I can remember previewing a game in which the Tigers hold no clear advantages on offense. That may seem surprising given Missouri’s lack of firepower this year, but there always seems to be something the Tigers can turn to as a, “if X, then Y,” scenario. Unfortunately, Florida comes in as one of the most balanced defensive teams Missouri will play. The simple reality is that Missouri will have to find someone to spark the offense. Whether that’s Mark Smith or Torrence Watson from the outside, or someone like Tray Jackson stepping up against Tennessee — the Tigers don’t have a shot if they can’t find someone to consistently knock down shots.

When Florida has the ball...

Florida Offense vs. Missouri Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Florida 108.2 (38) 17.4 (191) 49.8 (156) 17.1 (50) 31.9 (74) 37.5 (62) 31.8 (222) 50.8 (114) 71.7 (132) 7.3 (54) 7.8 (57)
Missouri 90.5 (32) 18.2 (312) 43 (13) 23.6 (25) 24.6 (47) 38.3 (289) 27.6 (14) 43.9 (38) 75.8 (340) 9.8 (121) 11.2 (60)
NCAA Basketball: Chicago State at Missouri
With Jeremiah Tilmon sidelined, Reed Nikko will get extra minutes. He’ll need to avoid foul trouble against a Florida front court that’s elite at drawing fouls.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can the Tigers muck it up and keep it clean?

One of the Tigers’ great strengths on the 2019-2020 season is their ability to force tough shots. Sometimes they still fall, but the Tigers are one of the country’s premiere effective field goal percentage defenses, still ranking in the Top 15. Florida, on the other hand, is a team of middling efficiency — 156th, to be exact. However, they rank 69th (nice) in the amount of points they get from the free throw line. If Missouri wants to stall the Gators, they’ll need to find a way to muck up the game without putting the Gators on the line. That’ll be easier said than done — the Tigers ranked 289th in free throw attempts to field goal attempts on defense.

KenPom predicts...

Florida 63, Missouri 62 | For all of Missouri’s struggles — including another long-term injury to one of the team’s most talented players — they have a shot at notching one of their best wins of the season against Florida. The Gators are a likely tournament team, and would rate well on Missouri’s resume without necessarily bringing them all the way back. They’ll need one hell of an effort to do it, and there’s no rhyme or reason to when the scorers decide to heat up. But home-court advantage and a tough defense will always give them a chance. At this point, that’s all you can ask for.