Spread: Florida -2
7pm Central – O’Connell Center, Gainesville, FL
Baylor Bears (16-1)
Not often is the #1 team in the nation an underdog in a non-conference game. Almost never in that situation is the favorite unranked. But that’s where we find ourselves in this crazy season of college basketball. The Bears of Baylor take their #1 ranking on the road to Gainesville, FL, as part of the Big 12 / SEC challenge Saturday night, where they’ll meet a Florida team whose record fails to live up to its talent level.
Like an anaconda, Baylor looks to establish a vice grip and squeeze the life out of its opponents by slowing the game down, pounding the offensive glass, and playing lock-down defense, particularly inside the arc. The Bears grab an offensive rebound on 37.3% of their misses (good for 7th best in the country) and their top-10 defense is allowing opponents to shoot just 41.5% on 2-pt attempts (again, 7th best in the country). Baylor is also in the top 40 in block % and steal % on defense.
Offensively, Baylor leans on sophomore guard Jared Butler (16.1 PPG, 38.1% from 3) and junior guard MaCio Teague (13.6 PPG), as well as senior big man Freddie Gillespie (9.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG (4.2 offensive RPG), 58.8% from the field). Glue-guy Mark Vital, a junior guard averaging 6.1 PPG and 6.0 RPG, has a knack for coming up with key hustle plays, contributing 2.8 offensive boards per game along with 1.9 steals per game.
Florida Gators (12-6)
A bit of an enigma all season, Florida’s season closely reflects that of heralded grad transfer forward Kerry Blackshear Jr.: lots of hype, underwhelming results. Blackshear Jr. shot over 50% in each of his three years at Virginia Tech. But, since taking his talents to northern swamps of Florida, Blackshear is shooting just 44.8% from the floor and is averaging 14.8 PPG—lower than his average last season as a Hokie.
Florida is coming off a 2-point road loss against LSU on Tuesday, but this break in conference action to take on the #1 team on its home floor could be just what the Gators need to solidify their resume. They’re just 1-3 in Quad 1 games this season, although their one win came last week at home against Auburn. Florida held Auburn’s impressive offense to just 47 points on 25.5% shooting.
The Gators run their offense through Blackshear, and he accounts for the end (either positively or negatively) of 25.7% of Florida’s possessions when he’s on the court. Other key contributors include sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson (12.7 PPG, 38.6% from 3), sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard (11.0 PPG), and sophomore guard Noah Locke (10.5 PPG). On defense, the Gators will be hard pressed to limit second chance opportunities by keeping Baylor off the offensive glass. Blackshear and Johnson give them a chance, though, with the pair contributing 8.7 and 6.7 RPG, respectively.
Both of these teams rank in the bottom half of the NCAA in terms of pace. I expect this to be a knockdown, drag out brawl (not literally—looking at you, Baylor, as our representative from the Big 12 here). While each team is fairly efficient with their possessions on offense, the Bears will look to slow the game down on the road and rely on their excellent defense to retain their #1 ranking. Take under 130.5.