Florida Gators basketball has struggled against the best teams its faced this season. On Saturday, it faces its toughest test of the 2015-16 campaign (as well as its last nonconference game until a potential postseason run) when it hosts the No. 9 West Virginia Mountaineers as part of the 2016 Big 12/SEC Challenge at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.
Here’s a look ahead at the game: what to know and how to watch Florida-West Virginia.
Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 12 p.m. ET
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
Tale of the tape
|Florida Gators||West Virginia Mountaineers|
|Head Coach: Mike White||Head Coach: Bob Huggins|
|Record: 13-7||Record: 17-3|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Big 12|
Spread: -1.5 | O/U: OFF
The Gators’ issues this season, among other things, have been their inability to consistently put the ball in the basket from beyond the arc and at the charity stripe. Guess what? The Mountaineers struggle in those exact same areas. Due to a couple high-percentage games, Florida is actually 286th nationally in three-point shooting (.318), while West Virginia checks in at 306th (.307). WVU does best its hosts in free throw shooting though, checking in 304th (.651) compared to 331st (.623) for UF.
Saturday’s matchup is also a showdown between two of the best defensive teams in the country with the Mountaineers checking in first in adjusted defensive efficiency and the Gators falling in fourth, according to KenPom.com. West Virginia, of course, has posted better offensive numbers and plays with a preferred tempo as Florida is still trying to find its rhythm under White.
But where UF surprisingly has an advantage – particularly considering WVU has faced three top-10 opponents and taken down No. 1 Kansas 74-63 in its only win against the aforementioned teams – is its strength of schedule. Florida’s been tested on the road, at neutral sites and at home; the issue for the Gators is they’ve lost every time a challenge has been presented (and other times when they should have otherwise won games they’ve played).
Of particular importance Saturday is the absence of key personnel for both teams. UF will be without senior forward Justin Leon, who sparked the team when entering the starting lineup and was a big reason for the team’s four-game winning streak; his injury early in Tuesday’s game similarly played a role in Florida floundering and losing on the road. West Virginia will be forced to play with starting F Jonathan Holton on the sidelines due to a suspension; Holton averages 9.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and plays an important role as an offensive rebounder for WVU.
So how does this shake out? While everything in my brain tells me that the Mountaineers getting 1.5 points is too good to be true, I also remember that the only thing predictable about the Gators is how unpredictable they are on a game-to-game basis. White is getting a bad rap from some fans; he’s proven that he can get Florida to respond off a bad loss. This is UF’s last chance to pick up a desperately needed quality nonconference win, which would do wonders for its NCAA Tournament resume, and I think White figures out a way to pull it out in front of a sold out O’Dome crowd.
ATS picks: 4-2 | O/U picks: 4-2
Injuries and absences
» Out: F Justin Leon (concussion), F Alex Murphy (foot)
» Out: F Jonathan Holton (suspension)
» Florida is 4-3 all-time against West Virginia.
» The Gators are 1-1 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, splitting a pair of games with Kansas during the first two years of the event.
» UF hosting WVU brings a rare top-10 nonconference opponent to the O’Dome. It’s the first time one will play in Gainesville since Nov. 16, 2010. Florida is 1-6 against top-10 teams in regular-season play since 2010.
» The Gators have put forward five different starting lineups this season and could be in line for a sixth with Leon out of action on Saturday.
» Florida is 11-2 when scoring 70+ points this season and 3-4 when allowing 70+ points.
» UF is 8-1 when playing on Friday or Saturday this season, 5-6 on all other days (none played on Thursday).
» The Gators are 0-4 against AP Top 25 opponents this season.