Florida Gators basketball: 3 questions heading into Wednesday's game at Texas A&M

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Jan 4, 2023; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Texas A&M Aggies guard Manny Obaseki (35) controls the ball while defended by Florida Gators guard Trey Bonham (2) during the first half at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida basketball (10-7, 3-2 SEC) will look to extend its win streak to four games and avenge a loss from earlier this month when it plays Wednesday night at Texas A&M (7 p.m. SEC Network).

The Gators lost 66-63 at home to the Aggies on Jan. 4, in a game that was delayed 15 minutes when Texas A&M forgot to bring its game jerseys to the arena and needed to retrieve them from the team hotel.

"We feel like they came in here and stole one from us on our home court and we still have that sour taste about that loss and we all hate losing," Florida center Colin Castleton said. "That's something that we take pride in here."

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Texas A&M (12-5, 4-0 SEC) has won six straight after a 6-5 start and is a half game behind Alabama (15-2, 5-0) for first in the league standings. Florida will face the unique challenge of facing a team for the second time in less than two weeks.

"Beneficial for us because we can go look at the tape and it's pretty fresh," Florida coach Todd Golden said. "The funny thing is we are a little different already than what we were in that game, so some of it is different but we can go see, especially in the first half, we didn't attack things very well. Second half, I thought we were a little loose with the ball. We can be better, and I think we can make some small adjustments going into the game and it's going to give us a good shot to compete."

Texas A&M will be the first of back-to-back road games for the Gators this week, as Florida will play Saturday night at Mississippi State (8:30 p.m., SEC Network). Florida is 2-1 in true road games this season with wins at Florida State and LSU.

 “It’s the first time we’ve had it this year," Golden said. "But we’ll come back here after the game on Wednesday night, get in our own beds, spend a couple of nights in our own bed before getting back out on the road Friday. It’s just another element of the schedule. You have to be prepared for it."

Here are three questions for the Gators heading into their matchup with the Aggies:

Will Florida change starting lineup to address recent slow starts?

Florida has failed to score more than 30 points in the first half of four of its first five SEC games. In its last three games, the Gators were down 13 points midway through the first half to Georgia, down 7-0 early at LSU and down 11-0 early against Missouri.

As a result, Golden said he may tinker with the starting lineup.

 "We definitely need to start better. I don’t think it’s a good strategy to be down seven points every game," Golden said. "I think maybe we’ll make an adjustment with the starting lineup, but at the same time I think our bench is playing really well."

A possible move would be to replace Trey Bonham in the starting lineup with either Riley Kugel or Myreon Jones, who have both played well off the bench of late. Kugel had 13 points (but 5 turnovers) in Florida's win over Missouri, while Jones had 8 points and 5 assists (to just one turnover) in 34 minutes on the floor.

"Changing the starting lineup would adjust one of their roles coming off the bench," Golden said. "So we’ll probably make a move. I’m not sure what we’ll do going into the game tomorrow, but I’m really pleased with the way our bench has played over this three-game stretch.” 

How will Florida handle Texas A&M's pressure?

Florida turned the ball over 20 times in the first meeting, which led to 21 points for Texas A&M.

"Obviously, a focus of ours, especially going on the road and as great as A&M is playing, to give yourselves a chance you’ve got to take care of (the ball)," Golden said. "So it’s been an emphasis for us and something we’ve been focusing on as we get closer to the game.”

Florida turned the ball over 19 times against Missouri, but the turnovers were not as damaging, as they led to just 14 Missouri points.

How will Colin Castleton handle Texas A&M's double teams?

Castleton had 14 points and 5 rebounds in the first meeting, though he turned the ball over 6 times while trying to deal with the aggressive traps the Aggies used against him.

"They showed like a little bit of a baseline trap," Castleton said. "They switch it up really well."

Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said he made containing Castleton the focal point of his game plan earlier this month and will likely employ a similar strategy again on Wednesday.

"They throw a lot of things at you," Castleton said. "You gotta be able to just play off that and read it. So, what I've been doing recently, just when I get double teamed the first couple times, I kind of just see what they're doing and then I can attack out of that. I try not to just force anything or make bad passes, but I feel like I've been able to just make the easy pass and that's something that coaches have been emphasizing."

Castleton has been playing at a high level of late and earned SEC Player of the Week honors after averaging 17 points,10 rebounds and 4.5 assists in wins over LSU and Missouri. His 3.1 blocks per game leads the SEC.

"His teammates are playing better too, which is a big part of it," Golden said. "It's why his assist totals have been so high. Guys are stepping up and making shots."