You don’t have to look too far back to remember the last time the Florida Gators and the Gonzaga Bulldogs met. In fact, it was basically one year ago today (plus one more day—but same timespan), as Gonzaga overcame a rough first half to pull away from the Gators in the Advocare Invitational. Tonight, the two teams will meet once again in the PK80 Invitational.
Gonzaga is coming off of a solid win over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the opening round of the tournament. Josh Perkins was hitting daggers from deep and the Gonzaga unveiled a zone defense that apparently Ohio State had never seen before, judging by how bad they struggled against it.
Florida was the most impressive team of the day in the 16-team tournament last night. They rattled off 108 points against the Stanford Cardinal, and it is tough to figure out if they are that good (they probably are) or if Stanford is that bad (they probably are too).
Gonzaga and Florida will take on the winner of Duke and Texas, with the loser getting the scraps. Here is a full bracket.
Meet the opponent
Florida Gators, 4-0, KenPom #10
The Gators are the most balanced team the Zags have faced so far, ranked No. 12 in both offense and defensive efficiency by Ken Pomeroy (how that equals out to No. 10 overall don’t ask me). They’ve scored 100-plus points in three of their four games so far this season. When Florida gets hot, it is a sight unlike few other. Just ask Stanford, who watched their tree burn down as Florida set a new school record for threes in a half with 13 last night.
Threes are the bread and butter of this Florida squad, led by senior Egor Koulechov, who is hitting 56 percent on the year and taking over six attempts per game. As a team, Florida is shooting 46.8 percent from beyond the arc, good for No. 6 in the nation. The Gators like to push the pace on offense and shoot the first good shot. Stanford clearly had no game plan for the Florida attack other than wilting over and letting the leaves fall gently to the ground in the waning fall months.
Florida is also ruthlessly efficient with the ball. They rarely turn the ball over (No. 3 in the nation as a team) and rarely see their shot attempts swatted away (No. 1 in the nation). The Zags cannot get into a shooting match with Florida—they will lose that battle. Gonzaga, who enters the game as the underdog, needs to body Florida off their game if they want to win. Otherwise, the Gators are going to shoot the lights out and send the Zags home.
What to watch out for
Zags can’t only rely on the three.
Josh Perkins was definitely feeling it from three last night, but at the beginning of the game against Ohio State, the offense was looking a bit stalled. There wasn’t a lot of real motion, just taking jump shots. Luckily, Ohio State also went a bit cold, but against Florida, those lapses won’t last so long. Gonzaga needs to make sure they are scoring on every single trip down the court, which goes without saying, to stay in this game because Florida is going to score in bunches. That means when the outside shot isn’t going, to start sending the ball down low immediately. There is a good chance Florida jumps out to a 10 or more point lead in this game, and how Gonzaga responds at that point will be the big determining factor if the game is close or if it is a blow out.
Use size to our advantage.
The one huge advantage Gonzaga has over Florida is size. Our guards our bigger and our frontcourt is much bigger. Gonzaga needs to secure every offensive rebound. They need to play hard and tough on the perimeter. The Zags hounded 6’2 guard KeVaughn Allen last season, and held 6’0 point guard Chris Chiozza to zero points. Gonzaga busted out that zone a little bit last night, and that should help stifle the Florida onslaught. If the Zags can body the Gators off their preferred game, it’ll make it much easier to pull off a victory.
Either Zach Norvell or Rui Hachimura need to step it up.
Both players have been streaky, as expected, but last night it was hard for Mark Few to fill the hole after Corey Kispert quickly picked up his second foul in the first half. Both Norvell and Hachimura weren’t very effective in his wake, and both of their offensive contributions will be required in this game. Each player has the talent, but each had some issues last night. Norvell picked up a couple of rough fouls, and Hachimura just didn’t seem to have an idea what to do with movement off the ball. This game should be a much higher paced environment, which suits both of their playing styles. Hopefully, they can respond.