After duplicate 94-67 wins against lesser opponents, the ‘Noles strength of schedule ticks up a notch as they travel to Gainesville to battle the Gators on Friday night. Here’s what you need to know.
1. The State of Florida has the 2nd oldest population in the nation (hi, Frank!), so it’s a natural fit that the O-Dome (which replaced their previous gym which had no air conditioning, seriously) has been rebranded as Exactech Arena, and Exactech, according to their website “empowers surgeons with innovative implants and smart technologies for joint replacement.” Turns out that Exactech had to recall 147,732 implants that were already in people’s bodies. Oopsies. Sorry Gam Gam. The arena underwent a $64 million renovation in 2016, and the team immediately responded by going to an Elite-8. Since then, they’ve failed to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and it’s been 10 years since they’ve won the conference regular season or tourney. To remedy this, they looked at FSU and Miami who both have coaches in their 70s, and brought in 36-year-old Todd Golden, a guy who embraced nerdball analytics and became the most efficient college basketball player in the nation as a senior at St. Mary’s. He’s an outside-the-box teacher, known for unusual strategies such as intentionally fouling before half in order to get an extra possession.
2. Golden took a bit of a YOLO approach to 3s in his short stint at the helm of San Francisco. In his 2nd year his team actually attempted more 3s than 2s. But so far at Florida he has eschewed the long ball in favor or getting it done in paint, and was 200th nationally in 3-pointers attempted last year, and is 263rd through three games this year. Their 2-pt%, meanwhile, is a stout 56.2%. Does this matter? Well, FSU’s most recent opponent – Central Michigan, a team picked last in a weak conference – became closely acquainted with the rim, making 19-25 2s which was the highest 2-pt% allowed by an FSU team since Steve Robinson was roaming the sideline. If you don’t remember that, think back to when the nation’s cinemas were rolling out classics like Saving Private Ryan, The Big Lebowski, and 3 Ninjas: High Moon at Meadow Mountain. In other words, no one in the student section was alive the last time a team scored in the paint at such an efficient clip as the Chippewas.
3. Golden turned a 3-year stint at USF (the OG Bill Russell USF, not South Florida) into an $18 million/6-year contract with the Gators. In his first season his team was squarely on the bubble in mid-February when big man Colin Castleton broke his hand. They promptly went 2-5 down the stretch and finished the season with a humiliating NIT blowout at the hands of UCF. Now that Castleton is backing up Anthony Davis’s backup in Los Angeles, Golden had to bring in several bigs so as to not repeat last year’s late season small-ball misery. Enter 6-10 transfer Tyrese Samuel from Seton Hall, and 7-1 lug Micah Handlogten from Marshall. Both are beasts down low and can’t shoot a lick. Since FSU switches 1-5, UF will want to run their bigs around the perimeter to make room for their impressive guards to work in space, and if that’s the game we allow, then we’re likely toast. However, since they aren’t perimeter threats, this gives FSU the opportunity to actually clog up the middle with bodies and force UF to beat the ‘Noles from the perimeter. Will Ham make an adjustment, or will we ride-or-die letting the other team dictate matchups and counting on our guys use their length to get deflections?
They also have a 3rd big in 6-11 freshman Alex Condon from Australia, who is apparently too tall to be a punter, but he can rain 3s, so the ‘Noles will have to be aware when he’s in the game.
4. The Gators are 4th nationally in offensive rebounding. The ‘Noles are 174th in defensive rebounding. That’s gonna be fun. The Gators are 0-1 are in their ACC schedule (Virginia, FSU, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh), but nearly knocked off the Hoos by rebounding half their misses. Will the ‘Noles be able to close out defensive possessions?
5. UF’s backcourt is a problem. Sophomore Riley Kugel is a likely 1st round pick at season’s end. Belmont transfer Will Richard has made 40% of his 3s in Gainesville, and those two are joined by Walter Clayton who made 43% of 3s last year at Iona, and then declined to follow head coach Rick Pitino to St. John’s, and instead picked Florida. All three can drive past FSU’s wing defenders which has become an annual problem for the tallest team in college.
FSU is going to have to win in transition - disrupting the Gators flow and turning deflections into easy points.