Florida basketball: 3 questions for Gators heading into SEC matchup with Mississippi State

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Jan 18, 2023; College Station, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies forward Julius Marble (34, left) and Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) battle for a rebound during the second half at Reed Arena. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Florida will play the second of two straight road basketball games on Saturday at Mississippi State (8:30 p.m. SEC Network).

The Gators (10-8, 3-3 SEC) had their three-game win streak snapped Wednesday night, scoring a season-low 52 points in a 54-52 loss at Texas A&M. Florida went 2 of 26 from the floor in the first half, falling behind 26-12 and setting near-record marks for offensive futility. It was Florida's lowest scoring first half since scoring just 10 points against Florida State in the pre-shot clock era on Dec. 7, 1966.

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Mississippi State (12-6, 1-5 SEC) has lost six of its last seven after an 11-0 start but will present another tough challenge for Florida based on its style of play. The Bulldogs are a physical, grinding defensive team that ranks second in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 58.2 points per game.

"It’s gonna be a similar game to A&M, you know," Florida coach Todd Golden said. "I think a very physical, very good defensive team. Another game that’s going to be tough to score for both teams early on."

Here are three questions for Florida heading into the Mississippi State matchup:

Can Florida get its reeling offense on track?

The Gators were held to two field goals in the first half against Texas A&M, falling behind 23-12 at halftime. Even a 40-point outburst in the second half couldn't help the Gators avoid their lowest scoring output of the season.

Florida has scored 60 points or less in five straight games and enter Saturday night's matchup 121st in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, per KenPom.

"We've got to find a way to find more easy baskets early in the game to lift the lid off the top of the rim," Golden said. "We've continued to get better over the course of our six league games being 3-3 in all of our league games so we're close. We just got to be a little more efficient in the first half."  

Moving guard Myreon Jones into the starting lineup didn't help Florida avoid getting off to another slow start. Jones did hit one of Florida's two first-half baskets with a 3-pointer and ended up scoring 10 points on 3 of 12 shooting from the floor and 3 of 10 shooting from 3-point range. More importantly, Jones was steady with the ball, finishing with no turnovers.

"Myreon has played fantastic," Golden said. "He’s been one of the efficient players in the league. He’s done a great job taking care of the ball, been a plus-defender for us and been a good facilitator for us also, as his assist-to-turnover ratio has been really good. So it was him being deserving of that opportunity more than anything else. Hopefully, it’ll help us tomorrow night."

Can Florida continue to defend at a high level?

Florida has held two of its last three opponents under 60 points and enters Saturday's game ranked 13th in the county in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, per KenPom.

Florida senior center Colin Castleton has been an elite rim protector, averaging 3.2 blocks per game. He had six more blocked shots against Texas A&M.

Players have bought into Golden's defensive schemes and concepts.

"Everybody is talking and everybody is coming together," Florida guard Will Richard said.

Can Kowacie Reeves break out of his recent funk?

Reeves has shot 29.2 percent from 3-point range for the season and is 3-for-31 from 3-point range over his last seven games.

A 6-foot-6 swingman, Reeves showed earlier in the season he could thrive in a sixth-man role, scoring a season-high 20 points off the bench against Ohio on Dec. 14 in Tampa. But he hasn't been able to produce that same lift offensively off the bench in SEC play.

"We believe in Wacie’s ability to shoot it," Golden said. "He’s done a good job shooting from the foul line and at some point the shots are going to start dropping. The message to him in the meantime is trust yourself, believe in yourself and don’t allow any shooting struggles to bleed into other parts of your game. That’s part of growing as a player."