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Stumbling Gators Offense Has Daunting Task vs. Volunteers Top-Rated Defense

All Gators on FanNation logo All Gators on FanNation 2/1/2023 Brandon Carroll
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The stumbling Gators offense is faced with a daunting task as it looks to upset a Tennessee Volunteers team that boasts the nation’s top defense.

Photo: Colin Castleton; Credit: Zach Goodall

The last time Florida hosted the nation's No. 2 on its home court, it walked away with a monumental victory over the Auburn Tigers on Feb. 19, 2022.

In an effort to replicate that reality this season, the Gators will have to combat the nation's top-rated defense while working through well-documented stagnancy on offense. UF has struggled to contend with the upper echelon in college basketball this season due to its standing as the 147th team in adjusted offensive efficiency.

It's resulted in the 2-9 combined record in Quad I (1-7) and II (1-2) games thus far, putting Florida on the outer edge of the bubble by bracketologists at the moment. As a result, the unit is in drastic need of reconciliation if it looks to make a run toward March to meet internal preseason expectations.

On Tuesday, prior to the Gators' (12-9; 5-3 SEC) midweek contest against the Tennessee Volunteers (18-3; 7-1 SEC), Florida head coach Todd Golden spoke on the challenges Rick Barnes’ group presents as the No. 2 team in the country.

"They're just a team that's clearly in a great spot with the program," he said during media availability on Tuesday. "They've done a really good job recruiting to what they believe is important. They're super deep, very unselfish, they’re big, strong."

That fact has led them to a firm standing as the nation's top defensive team and No. 1 in overall adjusted efficiency margin. Allowing just 54.5 points per game and 84.2 points per 100 possessions, according to, the Volunteers are limiting opponents from netting the ball at an unequivocally high rate.

Their opposition has shot at just a 34.5% clip from the field and 22% from beyond the arc throughout the year. Unfortunately for Florida, that strength of Tennessee on the defensive end is set to operate against UF's glaring weakness on offense — knocking down 40.3% from the floor and 26.8% from beyond the arc against power six opponents.

"They just do a great job of covering up paint touches, you think you're gonna get an open shot, they do a great job closing out on your 3-point shooters," Golden said. "I think that they have the best 3-percentage defense, as well.

"So they present a lot of challenges in terms of how you’re going to score against them. They're really sound, they do a really good job fundamentally and defensively."

Tennessee's ability to limit good looks from the floor effectively shrinks the window of opportunity for an already inefficient Gators squad. That's troublesome as the lapses have not come due to ineptitude in finding good looks, but the inability to take advantage of the open shots they do receive. 

Against Kansas State, Florida dug an early hole after scoring just 16 points in the first half in Manhattan. After evaluating the film post-game, the staff saw an abundance of missed opportunities and rushed possessions, a common occurrence for the team in 2022-23. Shooting slumps from Kowacie Reeves Jr. and Will Richard have exasperated that issue as of late.

There won't be a drastic change in approach as Tennessee comes to town on Wednesday. But, the Gators will be intentional about who they get involved and when.

That starts with Colin Castleton, who, per usual, will be the main factor in Florida's offensive success as he battles with Vols big man Uros Plavsic on the inside. Coming off a contest in which he scored just two first-half points, the Gators will focus on getting him involved on the scoreboard early and often.

"We're going to try to continue to get him the ball in spots where he can be more efficient scoring," Golden said when asked about ways to establish Castleton as a threat.

However, more importantly, UF needs to take advantage of the way teams play them, which usually consists of limiting paint touches while daring the Gators to beat them shooting from the perimeter.

"We have to do a better job taking advantage of the way teams guard us," he said. "Really every team we've seen the past couple of weeks is doubling [Castleton] instantly on the catch. It's not a lack of his ability in terms of being able to finish through that or score that. I feel we've gotten some looks when we throw out and move the ball out of those double teams. 

"If you can make teams pay for the way they guard, then that would open up more for Colin."

If the Gators can find a way to do that in a daunting matchup with the best college basketball has to offer defensively, it could kickstart Florida to make a late-season push toward March. 

To knock off the Volunteers — or win any of the next three contests — that's exactly what will need to happen.

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