Florida basketball: 3 questions for Gators heading into SEC game at No. 3 Alabama

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

Florida will close out its roughest four-game stretch of the college basketball season on Wednesday when it plays at No. 3 Alabama (9 p.m., ESPN2).

The Gators (13-10, 6-4 SEC) will play their fourth different Top-5 ranked opponent this season for the first time in program history.

Florida is 1-2 in its prior three games against Top 5 teams, pulling off a 67-54 upset of No. 2 Tennessee last week in Gainesville. The Gators are coming off a 72-67 loss at Kentucky on Saturday.

Alabama (20-3, 10-0 SEC) is vying to become the first team to go unbeaten in conference play during the regular season since Kentucky went 18-0 in league play in 2014-15.

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"The schedule has prepared us for this game over the last couple of weeks," Florida coach Todd Golden said. "We’ve seen some really, really good teams. We’ve still got to prepare for the challenges that is Alabama and the things that they do really well, which is basically everything. You know they are really talented but again, I don’t anticipate our guys are going to be fearful or scared."

Here are three questions for Florida heading into Wednesday night's matchup with the Crimson Tide:

How can UF contain Alabama phenom freshman forward Brandon Miller?

Feb 4, 2023; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide forward Brandon Miller (24) drives to the basket against LSU Tigers forward KJ Williams (12) during the second half at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-foot-9, 200-pound Miller is a versatile inside-out scorer who is averaging 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.1 3-pointers per game. He's a shoo-in for SEC freshman of the year and at this point likely will win SEC player of the year honors as well.

"He’s the leading scorer in the SEC or close, and he’s only going to be in Tuscaloosa for about another month or so and it’ll be nice to see him once and wish him best of luck," Golden said of a player headed for the NBA. "Now he, you know, I think he’s been one that has overachieved in terms of expectation. I’m not sure exactly what he’s rated. I know he was a very highly touted recruit, but he’s just, I mean, if he’s not the best freshman he’s one of the best in the country. And I think he’s played at a level that’s allowed them to be a top-five team in the country.”

Overall, Alabama's frontcourt size could present problems, with 6-10 forward Noah Clowney (10.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and 7-0 center Charles Bediako (5.3 ppg, 1.5 bpg) playing alongside Miller.

"We have to be that much tougher, more connected," Florida point guard Kyle Lofton said. "We play four guards for the most part, so everybody has to help each other out down there.”

Can Florida slow down Alabama in transition?

The Crimson Tide are a fast-paced team that lead in the SEC in scoring offense at 83.1 points per game. Florida is coming off a game in which it was outscored 14-0 by Kentucky in fast-break points.

"They probably have one of the fastest tempos in college basketball," Golden said. "We need to get better in transition defense. That will be a point of emphasis, stopping them in transition and forcing them to play in the halfcourt.”

Alabama senior guard Jahvon Quinerly (7.3 ppg, 3.5 apg) is a change-of-pace player who comes off the bench for the Tide and can create plays in transition.

"Really good point guard, you know, really good playmaker," Golden said. "Plays out of the pick and roll a lot. You know, I would say the past, inconsistent shooter, but he’s shooting the ball really well in conference play, so we’re mindful of that."

Can the Gators get off to a better start?

Florida endured another slow start on the road against Kentucky, scoring 7 points in the game's first 9 minutes and trailing 33-22 at halftime.

The Gators have scored less than 30 points in the first half in five of their last six road games.

"That’s a negative for our team," Lofton said. "They’ve emphasized the past three road games just going there, hitting first. We sometimes just try to feel out a game. That’s not good to do. I think we should play every game just in attack mode first and I think that will be better for our ball club.”'