What began as an exciting weekend with all sorts of opportunities for the Gators to pick up quality wins and grab the attention of the college basketball world quickly turned sour with a loss to Xavier and ended on an even worse note on Sunday when they blasted by became the West Virginia Mountaineers by 84-55 points. This was a total smash against the Mountaineers, who came out on the first punch and never looked back, passing the Gators on either side of the floor. West Virginia’s lead grew to 16 in the first half before the Gators came back to cut the lead to 8 at the break, but the Mountaineers blitzed it early in the second half, eventually winning the second frame 43-22. Leading the Mountaineers was Texas transfer Tre Mitchell, who finished the game with 17 points and 8 rebounds.
Florida hasn’t been good on their side of the ground this season and it was their biggest problem on Sunday when they allowed West Virginia to get pretty much anything they wanted offensively. Their flex-screen offense, designed to give post players deep post catches, repeatedly worked without adjustments from the Gators, putting Florida’s Bigs in disadvantaged positions, resulting in a first-half in which Colin Casleton had three fouls and Jason Jitoboh picked up four. Off the ball, the Gators lost sight of the shooters, allowing wide-open catches and shots that led to some big three-point shots from the Mountaineers that repeatedly blew the Gators’ momentum out of the building. Florida’s defensive problems are evident and hopefully this weekend will show what needs improvement.
Colin Castleton started the season in absolute tears and put himself on the early college basketball player of the year watchlists, but this weekend was his 11-points vs. Xavier, 12-points vs. Oregon State, and now just 3-points vs West rather boring Virginia. Of course, his low total on Sunday had a little to do with the fact that he was benched with nasty problems and was out of control when he came back into play, so coach Todd Golden just benched him . Castleton struggled with the length and physicality of the West Virginia forecourt, and the Gators were unable to get him the kind of deep post touches that would make his job easier. Florida only shot 35% off the field against the Mountaineers and couldn’t get much going offensively, and it’s clear what worked for them against some of the mid-level opponents earlier in the season when playing against quality opponents.
Florida’s bright spot
After not playing his best basketball in the first two games of the PK85 point guard, Kyle Lofton turned things around against West Virginia, finishing with 17 points and 4 assists. While not much work was done on Florida’s offense, one thing that was effective was Kyle Lofton’s pick and rolls, which were well designed to give him a double gap to drive into where he converted on the edge and drew fouls could. There were some difficult moments offensively in the first half, where he tried and failed to create one-on-ones, but the success he had in the second half should show Florida how to use it. He’ll never be a great one-on-one player, but he has a high IQ and comes off the screens brilliantly, something Florida can work with.
It’s too early to make a comprehensive judgment on this Florida basketball team as a whole, but for now, the Gators have played three good basketball teams this season — Florida Atlantic, Xavier, and West Virginia — and lost to all three. They’re still looking for an identity on both sides of the ground, and unfortunately the PK85 didn’t seem like something to push things forward in a positive way. However, this team has a number of experienced players who will hopefully be able to turn hard losses into learning experiences that will help the team in the long run. The Gators have a much easier contest at home against Florida A&M next, where hopefully they’ll start doing things right.