While losing the Crosstown Shootout in embarrassing fashion can make the season seem over, its not. Far from it. The Cincinnati Bearcats are still a very good team and they will play (and win) plenty more games this season. The next one is against the currently No. 5 Florida Gators. So the level of difficulty isn’t going down for a bit. (Mississippi State and UCLA await from there).
But just like UC showed it was not perfect against a rival, the Gators bared their weaknesses in plain sight against a hated adversary this past week. On Monday night, despite playing in the comforts of Gainesville, they were routed 83-66 by Florida State, who happen to be undefeated.
That’s not what matters right now. The focus is on the Gators, who have actually lost their last two games, adding the setback against the Seminoles to the 87-84 loss they suffered eight days earlier against No. 1 Duke. But it was the game against Florida State that really gave an idea of just how to defeat those blue and orange reptiles.
First, it’s imperative that you defend the three. That means closing out on shooters, hounding wings as soon as they cross the half court line and leaving no man open on the perimeter. Normally, Florida is excellent from long range and adequate from inside the arc (and that last part’s being generous). Ranked 11th in the country in three-point field goal percentage (.429) and 214th in two-pointers (.498), the Gators were trying to shoot a beach ball into a thimble against FSU. Instead of draining numerous threes like they’ve used to, they went just 6-for-25 from long range. That put their offense out of wack and scrambling to find other ways to score.
Cincinnati isn’t the most dominant three-point defending team in the country, allowing 33.1 percent of attempts to fall through the net. However, if they are able to disrupt Florida’s game plan, they will be in a real position to succeed since they rank second in the country in opponent two-point field goal percentage (.381).
That brings us to the next key — rebounding. UC failed to control the glass against Xavier and we saw how that worked out. FSU destroyed Florida on the boards on Monday, grabbing 51 rebounds while the Gators had only 34. While there were plenty of misses to be collected on both sides, it was the Seminoles who made sure to fight for every loose ball and carom off the rim. Phil Cofer (12 rebounds) and Terance Mann (eight) were the most effective players, helping the visitors to outscore their hosts 24-8 in second chance points.
Gary Clark and Kyle Washington will be cast as Cofer and Mann in the Bearcats’ performance against the Gators. Clark should be fine, but Washington needs to bounce back from an abysmal showing against Xavier. Nysier Brooks, Tre Scott and others need to be on their best rebounding behavior as well. When they are, UC is a good team in this category, as they rank among the top 70 squads in the country in rebounding.
Winning the rebounding battle is just part of the overall ball control war. The Bearcats can also take a tip from FSU and make sure Florida is uncomfortable and makes bad decisions. The Seminoles made up for their own weak shooting by forcing 17 turnovers, which led to 19 points. FSU also scored 36 points in the paint while defending well on the interior, allowing only 20 points on 45.4 percent shooting.
It is this last bit of the plan that UC should have no issue pulling off. I already mentioned that the Bearcats can defend inside well, but they also have forced 137 turnovers this season and are eighth in the country in defensive efficiency.
No team is infallible. We learned that lesson about UC and Florida this week. As both teams look to bounce back, it will be imperative that the Bearcats use Florida’s past failures to dictate how they play and, if everything breaks right, win.