No. 10 Michigan State presents Florida with plenty of opportunities

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Florida senior guards KeVaughn Allen (5) and Jalen Hudson (3) play tight defense on Baylor guard Tristan Clark (25) during last season's game in the O'Connell Center in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Gators' strength this season has been their play on defense. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

Florida basketball coach Mike White sees a tough challenge when his Gators face 10th-ranked Michigan State today at noon.

More than anything, he sees a team that is what he wants his team to be.

The Gators (5-3) are coming off a defensive clubbing of West Virginia in New York City on Tuesday. Florida is showing through eight games that it has a potential to be an elite defensive team.

Offense is another story.

Michigan State can do both.

The program known for its defense is 16th in the country in scoring at 87.2 points per game and still is a top-25 team in defensive efficiency.

“They execute as well as anybody,” White said. “They are terrific at pounding you. They’re a really good basketball team.

“Michigan State is as tough as any college basketball program as there is in my opinion. I’ve always admired their level of discipline and toughness.

We’ll be very much tested.”

The Spartans (7-2) will offer Florida another thing today — an opportunity.

The win Tuesday night over West Virginia was important, but the Mountaineers were unranked.

You beat Michigan State and it gets people’s attention and gives you a brightly-colored feather for your NCAA Tournament resume.

“It would be big for us to get a win like that,” said senior KeVaughn Allen.

But to do that, Florida cannot rely only on a defense that ranks second in the SEC. The Gators need a little help from an offense that ranks 12th in the conference.

“We’re still trying to find ourselves offensively,” White said. “Shots just aren’t really falling for us. We’re still searching.

“We’re going to continue to try to be a really good defensive team and continue to get better, but we also understand we have to get much better offensively if we’re going to be competitive in the SEC and get to postseason play and make a run. Hopefully we can make a jump in the next couple of months.”

Certainly, the Gators saw good things from Allen on Tuesday, when he scored a team-high 19 points and was aggressive in attacking the basket.

But Allen knows that right now this is a team whose identity is hard-nosed defense.

“Every day, we just stress defense, try to make that our motto,” Allen said. “Whether we’re hitting shots on offense or not we have to keep playing defense. It is harder (when shots are not falling), but you just have to maintain and keep our focus.”

For the Gators, the challenges are everywhere. They have to get better at offensive rebounding, but at the same time have to get back in transition where Michigan State makes a living on fast-break points.

More than anything, they have to continue playing physical and tough the way they did against West Virginia.

“We took a step,” White said. “We’re going to have to be better in this one to have a chance. Our level of toughness and physicality has gotta be as good as its been all year, even better than the other day.”


Today

Who: No. 10 Michigan State (7-2) vs. Florida (5-3)

When: Noon

Where: O’Connell Center

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

PROBABLE STARTERS

FLORIDA (5-3)

KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 10.0 ppg; 2.8 apg

Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 8.3 ppg; 1.6 rpg

Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.3 ppg; 6.5 apg

Keith Stone; F; 6;8; Jr.; 6.8 ppg; 5.0 rpg

Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 7.4 ppg; 6.0 rpg

NO. 10 MICHIGAN STATE (7-2)

Kenny Gains; F; 6-7; Sr.; 7.0 ppg; 10.4 rpg

Nick Ward; F; 6-9; Jr.; 15.9 ppg; 6.0 rpg

Kyle Ahrens; G; 6-6; Jr.; 5.8 ppg; 2.6 rpg

Joshua Langford; G; 6-5; Jr.; 17.1 ppg; 3.7 rpg

Cassius Winston; G; 6-1; Jr.; 16.8; ppg; 7.7 apg

NOTES: The game completes a home-and-home series (delayed by UF’s arena construction) against the Spartans, as Florida played in East Lansing, Mich., in 2015, a 58-52 win for Michigan State, which was unbeaten at the time … Kevarrius Hayes and KeVaughn Allen were the only current Gators to play in that game … Florida ranks second in the SEC in scoring defense, steals and turnover margin … Freshman guard Andrew Nembhard has led Florida in assists in every game. He has 52 assists and only 11 turnovers this season.

— Pat Dooley

4 COMMENTS

  1. Without a strong inside presence on offense which we severely lack right now teams like Mich. St. will be tough to beat because they will pound the boards and play great defense plus the fact that Coach White is making no adjustments on offense to counter our lack of an inside game and instead is focusing on playing great defense which would help us regardless. Mich. St. does not look as tall as they usually are inside and playing at home could be a couple of things that could help us. Go Gators!!!

  2. ”More than anything, he (Coach White) sees a team that is what he wants his team to be. …Michigan State makes a living on fast-break points.” -Pat Dooley.
    So while a great defensive effort can turn into easy fast-break layups and slams (even on the playground courts), are the ”fast-break points” really what Coach Mike White wants his Gator offense to be? I don’t see that so far in Mike White’s Gator coaching career. And while I really love Nembhard’s (point guard) style of play, elite passing with few T/Os, I don’t see him leading a Gator fastbreak ‘O’ enough to ”make a living off of it” (like Pat Dooley alluded to above). Either way, I hope the Gator players give it their all today, win or lose, and the Gator fans show up for the 12:00 P.M. tip off. GO GATORS!

  3. Very disappointed how Hayes a senior in the program 4 years gets manhandled inside by two Michigan big men. This does not speak well for Trainer, Preston Greene as Hayes is still very weak. Hayes is very passive and has “stone hands” with all the passes that he drops. Stokes is limited in being a scoring threat while Bassett is not a good defensive player.