3 things to watch as Florida men's basketball enters the PK85 Tournament in Portland

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

Florida basketball (3-1) will get a high-level test during Thanksgiving weekend when it plays in the 16-team PK85 Tournament in Portland, Ore.

Florida will open tournament play against Xavier (3-1) on Thanksgiving Night (5:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2) at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. If Florida wins, it will face the winner of the matchup between No. 10 Duke and Oregon State on Friday. After the day off Saturday, Florida will conclude tournament against one of four teams from the opposite bracket, which includes No. 5 Gonzaga, No. 23 Purdue, West Virginia and Portland State.

The tournament celebrates the 85th birthday of Nike founder Phil Knight.

"It’s one of if not the best MTEs (mid-level tournament exemptions) in the country this year," Florida coach Todd Golden said. "We’re just grateful to be a part of it but it’s a great opportunity for us.” 

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The Gators are coming off 76-67 win over rival Florida State last Friday, a game in which Florida rallied from down 19 points late in the first half for its fourth-largest comeback in school history.

“We knew we were the better team," said Florida guard Trey Bonham, who sparked the second half comeback with 11 points and 3 assists off the bench. "So at halftime we were just like, ‘We could either — this could go one of two ways, we could either come back or we can let up and make it a 30 to 40-point game.’ We knew we wanted to make it a game and we could.”

Here are three things to watch when the Gators play at the PK80 Tournament this weekend.  

Starting lineup changes 

Florida went with Bonham over Kowacie Reeves to start the second half and rode him for most of the final 20 minutes. Jason Jitoboh and Alex Fudge also played more alongside Castleton in the second half rather than starter C.J. Felder.

Bonham effectively pushed the tempo and put Florida ahead to stay, 47-46, with a jumper with 13:40 remaining during a stretch in which the Gators outscored the Seminoles 21-3 to start the second half.

"I’m always going to be ready when my name’s called," Bonham said. "The previous games, I didn’t play as much as I did last game so just having the mindset really with the whole team, you just never know when your name is going to be called and be ready for the moment.”

With Bonham's second-half performance, Golden didn't rule out the possibility of changes in the starting lineup over the week. Florida has gone with a set starting lineup of center Colin Castleton, Felder, Reeves, point guard Kyle Lofton and shooting guard Will Richard through its first three games. At 6-foot-4, Richard could slide to defend bigger wings if Florida went with Bonham in a three-guard lineup. The Gators would lose some size but gain quickness.

“We might look at something different on Thursday," Golden said. "We’ll see how practice goes (Tuesday) and talk about it on the way out there. But obviously when you outscore an opponent by 26 in a half playing a certain lineup you’ve got to think about what you are doing and seeing if that might be a better way to go.” 

Big man matchup: Colin Castleton vs. Zach Freemantle

Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) shoots for two. The Florida Gators men's basketball team hosted the Florida Atlantic Owls at Billy Donovan Court at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, FL on Monday, November 14, 2022. The score was tied 35-35 at the half.  [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Florida's opening game Thursday night will feature a matchup of two of the better big men in college basketball: Florida 6-foot-11 center Colin Castleton (25.3 pgg, 8.8 rpg) vs. Xavier 6-9 forward Zach Freemantle (15.5 ppg. 7.3 rpg, 5.0 apg). Castleton has been dominant inside in Florida's last three games, averaging 29.3 points and 10.0 rebounds during that stretch.

“Xavier is a really talented team," Golden said. "They’re old, they’re talented."

Xavier returns four starters from a team that beat Florida 72-56 in the second round of the NIT last season and went on to win the tournament title. The Musketeers also added a perimeter threat in guard Souley Boum, a transfer from UTEP who began his career at San Francisco and was signed by Golden when he was an assistant coach there.

Under Sean Miller, who returned for his second stint as head coach at Xavier this season after being fired by Arizona a year a half ago, Xavier won its first three games of the season before falling 81-79 to No. 11 Indiana in a game that went down to the wire.

"They have some really good players, good coaching staff," Golden said. "This will be a great challenge for us. I think we can build off of Friday a little bit but we’re going to have to be more of a 40-minute team on Thursday to get this thing done. There’s different things about Xavier that concern us so we’ve got to be ready to address it for 40 minutes.” 

Finishing better at the rim

Florida's overall field goal percentage is 44.7 percent, but its problems finishing close to the rim against Florida Atlantic (18-51 on two-point attempts) bled into the first half last Friday against Florida State.

"It’s just a little lack of physicality, a lack of finishing because we weren’t getting to the line in the first half against Florida State either," Golden said. "I think we only shot a couple of free throws. In the second half I think we shot like 16 or something like that which was a big part of why we were able to win. So, we got to find a way to get it in and if you can’t score you’ve got to get fouled."

Defensively, Florida has done the physical things well, averaging 6.5 blocks per game with a rebounding margin of plus-9.1.

"Those are the areas, if we’re ever going to be good, that shows on the floor," Golden said. "It protects you a little bit on nights when you’re not shooting the ball well. We’ll always continue to emphasize that, yes, and it will be very important to maintain in those areas.”