-Photo by Jordan McPherson
Mike White knows the state of his team.
The Florida Gators are in the midst of a seven-game win streak and are playing some of their best basketball of the season.
Confidence is rising for a team that has missed the NCAA Tournament each of the past two years.
But by no means does White think his team has peaked.
“I think it's hard and not a lot of other guys would admit it, but there's probably not many teams that are putting 40 [minutes] together consistently,” White, UF’s second-year head coach, said Tuesday. “Those are the best teams in the country. We're not one. We hope to get there.”
But with a road matchup matchup against a turnover-forcing South Carolina team looming, the 19th-ranked Gators are looking to put as close to a perfect performance together as possible.
Tipoff for the game is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday from Colonial LIfe Arena. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
Ball handling looks to be the name of the game on Wednesday. The Gators (14-3, 5-0 SEC) come into the game ranked ninth nationally in turnover margin (+5.4). South Carolina (14-3, 4-0 SEC) is second in the SEC and 22nd overall in the category (+3.6).
“They thrive off turning you over and getting in transition, especially at home,” White said. “They have a great ability to get hands on basketballs, to overpressure you into making unsound decisions, speeding you up. So slowing down, playing off two feet, coming to jump stops, meeting passes, securing the basketball, a lot of fundamental ‘Basketball 101’ things are very important against this defense that creates a ton of havoc.”
Senior guard Sindarius Thronwell paces the Gamecocks’ offense, averaging a team-best 18 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Sophomore PJ Dozier -- who White considers one of the most versatile players in the SEC -- is also averaging just shy of 15 points per game.
For the Gators, most of their offensive production as of late has come from two of its top bench players in graduate transfer Canyon Barry and redshirt freshman Keith Stone.
Over the past four games, the two have combined to score 111 points on a 57.6-percent shooting efficiency (34-for-59). They’ve also made 17 of UF’s 33 three-point baskets in that span.
Last time out
Florida is coming off a gutsy 80-76 overtime home win against Georgia, a game where UF trailed for the entire first half and missed a handful of opportunities to put the game away in the second half. The Gators went on a couple multiple-minute scoring droughts after taking a lead or pulling within one possession -- the most noticeable one a 3:31 span after Barry hit back-to-back three-pointers midway through the period. Hill also missed two of his four free throws in the final 24 seconds that would have sealed the game instead of forcing overtime. UF outscored UGA 13-7 in the five-minute extra period to come away with the win.
In Joe Lunardi’s latest ESPN bracketology, Florida is projected to be a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament in the West Region. This would put the Gators in Salt Lake City to open up the tournament. UF is one of four SEC teams in Lunardi’s latest bracket, joining No. 1 seed Kentucky (South Region), No. 7 seed South Carolina (East Region) and No. 10 seed Arkansas (West Region).
Miami is currently slated as a No. 10 seed in the South Region, while Florida State is a No. 3 seed in the East.
In addition to being 19th in the latest AP poll, the Gators boast the toughest non-conference strength of schedule, the second-toughest overall strength of schedule and the fifth-highest RPI ranking.
UF announced Monday that its home games against Vanderbilt (Saturday) and Kentucky (Feb. 4) are both sellouts, bringing the season total to five.