I’d like to take this opportunity to first apologize to the OTB fans for my lack of posts recently. The Holidays got the best of me and my time. Finally back from my hiatus, it’s time to talk some Gator hoops. The Florida Gators (13-2) take on the Missouri Tigers (13-3) at 2:00 this Saturday in the O-Dome. This is a big game with early but important SEC Conference standing implications. This could even be a matchup we’ll see in the future for the SEC title. I’ve got you covered on what to expect from Frank Haith and the Tigers on Saturday.
This is the first ever meeting between the Gators and Tigers. Mizzou would have played Florida in the West regional game during last year’s NCAA Tournament, but the Tigers were upset by 15th seeded Norfolk State.
Missouri comes into this game without their leading scorer, Laurence Bowers, who is suffering from an MCL sprain. This is good news for Florida, as Bowers was the Tigers’ leading scorer, averaged 6.9 rebounds per game and shot 52% from behind the arc. Bowers has been out for two games, and the Tigers lost to Ole Miss in their first outing without him, but beat Georgia 79-62 on Wednesday.
Senior forward and UCONN transfer Alex Oriakhi has stepped up big for the Tigers with Bowers’ loss. The senior had 13 points and went an impressive 5-for-5 shooting against the Dawgs. Oriakhi is a monster under the boards, averaging 8.6 rebounds per game. Oriakhi is currently shooting 56% from the floor as well.
Mizzou comes into this game currently ranked first in the nation in rebounds per game, averaging 43.8 boards per game. The Tigers have impressively out-rebounded 13-of-16 opponents this season. Florida averages just over 36 boards per game, with Patric Young leading the team with 6.4 rebounds per game. Florida has to be extremely aggressive underneath in order to control Saturday’s game.
The only Tiger to have played a full season with head coach Frank Haith, Junior guard Phil Pressey, has been very impressive this year. Pressey is averaging 13.8 PPG over his last six games, and leads the SEC in assists, with 7.3 per game- a figure that is seventh in the Nation. Pressey is extremely efficient at dribbling down defenses while facilitating the ball effectively. Pressey is currently on the John R. Wooden Midseason Top 25 List as well. The list represents the top contenders for the John R. Wooden Award given at the end of the season.
Sophomore guard Jabari Brown has led the Tigers in scoring in their past three games; he had 15 points against Georgia on Wednesday. Equally impressive, he has shot at 50% from 3 point range over his last three games. The Tigers’ bench play has been much improved recently, with Keion Bell, Tony Criswell, and Earnest Ross putting in valuable minutes throughout the month of January. Florida has to make sure they do not get Keion Bell to the line a lot Saturday. Bell is shooting at and impressive 91.4% from the foul line. Against Georgia he went 4-4. The Mizzou bench is currently averaging 20.2 PPG.
While the Tigers have several weapons on offense and are extremely consistent rebounding the ball, Florida’s defense has been dominant all season. Florida is currently ranked third in the Nation in scoring defense, allowing just 51.7 PPG. Thursday night against Texas A&M, Billy’s defensive scheme worked spectacularly. Florida held TAMU’s leading scorer, Elston Turner to just four points and shooting 1-for-10. This was coming after Turner put up 40 points against Kentucky last Saturday.
Missouri-Florida should be a great one, and as I said before, don’t be surprised if these two teams battle it out for an SEC Title at the end of the year. We’ll see if Missouri can hold its own against Florida, its brand new in-conference rival.
Morgan Moriarty is a sophomore Telecommunications major at the University of Florida, and covers college football and recruiting for ESPN Radio. She is also on the University of Florida Women’s Club Water Polo Team. Follow her on Twitter @moriarty343