Both Alabama and Florida have had wildly up-and-down seasons.
The highs for both teams have been super high.
Alabama owns wins against top 25 teams in Rhode Island, Auburn and Oklahoma. Florida owns wins against top 25 teams in Gonzaga, Cincinnati, and Kentucky.
However, the lows have been super low.
Alabama hasn’t suffered a crippling defeat this season to an awful team, but it has already earned eight losses, with the Crimson Tide’s last loss coming via a demoralizing effort at home against an average Missouri team.
Meanwhile, Florida suffered a non-conference home loss to what appeared to be lowly Loyola-Chicago, though the Ramblers are now the favorites to win the Missouri Valley. On Tuesday, the Gators had one of their poorest offensive outings in a while in a surprising double-digit loss to Georgia.
The matchup between Alabama and Florida in Gainesville will be an important contest to help determine if either of these teams belong in the upper-echelon of the SEC.
Let’s look at some key areas of the game that Alabama needs to focus on in order to achieve a desperately needed road victory at Florida.
Guard the three
If you’ve seen Florida this season, you know that it relies heavily on the 3-point shot, and with good reason.
The Gators have five players that are better than 40 percent for the year from deep. Those numbers don’t even include streaky-shooter KeVaughn Allen, who can go off for 20+ points on any given night.
Mike White’s team has shot an incredible 44 percent from 3-point range in their wins since SEC play has started, but Florida has only managed to shoot a paltry 32 percent in their its losses in conference play.
When the Gators do drive to the basket, they aren’t nearly as effective. They make only 47 percent of their two-point field goal attempts, ranking them just 272nd in the country.
Alabama needs to be less concerned about Florida’s drives to the basket, as the Crimson Tide are one of the best shot-blocking teams in the country and should rely on their bigs more in this one.
During Wednesday’s matchup against Missouri, there were several possessions where Alabama’s defense essentially helped too much. Instead of giving up contested two-pointers against shorter offensive players, Alabama’s overaggressive help-side defense led to wide-open 3-point attempts.
Against the Gators, the Tide need to keep the guards in front of them as much as possible so that the defense doesn’t have to come off of their man. This will help Alabama stay closed out on the 3-point line and force Florida try to score in ways in which they are less comfortable.
Get the extra possession
One of the things that makes Florida so great is that it doesn’t turn the ball over.
Chris Chiozza is the league’s best at dishing out assists but he also doesn’t make mistakes with the ball. Having a point guard with those qualities is almost always a sign of a championship-caliber team.
Because of Chiozza and others, Florida doesn’t turn the ball over – third in the country in that department – and there are very few wasted possessions.
However, Alabama turns the ball over on almost 20 percent of its possessions. In an 80-possession game, that’s as many as 16 times that the offense misses out on an opportunity to score.
Naturally, the Tide aren’t going to be perfect at protecting the ball. Since there will be turnovers, Alabama needs to get some extra possessions in other ways.
Though Avery Johnson’s squad isn’t great at offensive rebounding, I believe they would be if they sold out to it. All of the Tide’s lineups have four or more players who are taller than 6’5, except for the rare occasion when Collin Sexton and Avery Johnson Jr. are on the floor.
I think it’s time that Alabama sacrifices giving up some transition buckets in favor or crashing the offensive boards like it did in the 2016-2017 season.
Knock down some 3-pointers
Florida makes a bunch of 3-pointers, but also allows opponents to make a bunch of perimeter shots as well.
The Gators have allowed SEC teams to shoot 40 percent from deep so far, which is last in the league.
Alabama may be the perfect remedy for that. The Tide made just 5 of their 20 attempts against Missouri and have made just 30 percent so far in league action.
Alabama certainly needs John Petty to get going to solve those issues. As we have discussed often this season, the Crimson Tide goes as Petty goes. Alabama has lost one game all year (at Arizona) in which Petty has made at least three 3-point field goals.
The Tide’s 3-point attack can’t just come from Petty, however. Some of Alabama’s shooters have been hesitant to let it go from deep, which has allowed defenses to key on Petty.
Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key and Herbert Jones have to be willing to take and make 3-pointers in order for the Tide to steal a road win at Florida.