Huge thanks to Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army for speaking to us today!
Jack: Florida has typically been competitive (if not dominant) on the hardwood over the past 20-plus years. However, the Gators have missed the NCAA Tournament two years in a row. Does this year’s team have things back on the right track?
Andy: This team would have to try hard to not make the NCAA Tournament, given its sky-high RPI and absurd strength of schedule after playing all but one of its non-conference games on the road. A road trip to Oklahoma in January produces maybe the fourth-toughest game Florida will have played outside its SEC schedule, and there’s not enough firepower in the SEC to really torpedo the Gators from here unless they do it themselves.
I think this team is also better than the last two squads Florida has assembled, if not dramatically so. It’s much better on offense when it makes shots -- as it did in setting a school record for threes against LSU -- or gets points in transition, but still lacks a premier perimeter creator or a reliable post-up option. Florida’s defense is the same swarming, aggressive attack that existed under Billy Donovan, souped up to press more often under Mike White, and it’s great at limiting turnovers and forcing tough shots.
Jack: Canyon Barry (the youngest son of Rick Barry) has found success at Florida after transferring from College of Charleston. How would one best describe his game, and what does he bring to the table for the Gators?
Andy: I think of Barry as a scorer, but a midrange scorer. He’s got a sweet-looking shot, but it’s not a particularly reliable one until he gets within about 14 feet, and the thing he does better than any other Florida player -- including the quicker and more explosive KeVaughn Allen -- is create his own shot on drives.
Barry, when healthy, is good for about 10 points and a couple of clutch shots a night, and for reliably prompting announcers to wax poetic about his dad and his inherited underhanded free throws when he heads to the line.
I suspect that Barry will be available for this one, as keeping him out at LSU seemed more precautionary than anything, but there’s been nothing official on his status as of yet.
Jack: This weekend’s Big 12/SEC Challenge features plenty of intriguing matchups. After looking at the schedule, which conference do you believe will come out on top this weekend?
Andy: Without looking at the schedule, I think it’s going to be the Big 12.
(looks at schedule)
Yeah, it’s definitely the Big 12. The only SEC teams I’d consider favorites (based on KenPom and gut, not actual Vegas lines) are Florida and Kentucky, and neither should be considered more than a one- or two-possession favorite. This is going to run the Big 12’s record in the Challenge to 4-0 all-time, which exactly no one will care about on Monday.
Jack: How do people in Gainesville feel about Billy Donovan at this point? Is he still revered down there, or are there some hard feelings?
Andy: I think he’s close to fully revered. No one complains about how Donovan’s recruiting kind of created the problems that have plagued Florida over the last two years -- a lack of elite shooters has made what were once dynamic offenses less efficient, and White’s had to draw blood from stones to get this one to be occasionally excellent -- and Florida fans have generally treated men’s basketball as a sideshow to complain about when football season is over, which isn’t far removed from treating it as a sideshow to crow about during much of Donovan’s tenure.
And given that Florida has made six Elite Eights, three Final Fours, and two national championship runs over the last 11 NCAA Tournaments, I suppose I can’t blame us for being spoiled.
Jack: How do you see this game playing out on Saturday? What’s your final score prediction?
Andy: I think it probably swings on how well Jordan Woodard plays. Since his return, he’s posted an Offensive Rating of better than 100 just once -- after doing that in all but one of his first 10 games of the year. As he goes, these Sooners go, it seems to me, and he’s going to have a challenge in Kasey Hill, who matches him well as a defensive pest, if not nearly as gifted an offensive player.
I trust Hill to help limit Woodard, and I think Florida builds on the confidence and offensive proficiency it developed in blowing out LSU to hold on for a win. Let’s put the score at Florida 75, Oklahoma 68.
Jack: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Andy: I don’t think so. I also don’t care.
Jack: Who would win in a fight – Jimbo Fisher or Kirby Smart?
Andy: All of us.