Florida, WVU Share Backcourt Similarities
When West Virginia hits the court at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night against Florida, it will see a Gator team that is in some ways a reflection of itself.
“They are a little bit like us,” head coach Bob Huggins said of the Gators, who stand at 4-3 on the season. “They are young at guard, and playing three freshmen a lot.”
Included in that young group are guards Andrew Nembhard (6-5, 190 lbs.) and Noah Locke (6-3, 205 lbs.), along with forward Keyontae Johnson (6-5, 225 lbs.).
That has led to some up-and-down early season results for Florida, again mirroring the Mountaineers. An impressive win over Stanford was sandwiched by losses to Oklahoma and Butler, but the Gators got back on track with a 98-66 win over North Florida last Tuesday. In that contest, nine different Florida players made at least one 3-pointer, tying an NCAA record held by . . . themselves. UF had previously seen nine players hit from distance in a win over Tennessee-Chattanooga. Dartmouth and Michigan also hold a piece of the record.
In all, 16 Florida trey attempts splashed the nets on the night.
Even in light of that performance, Huggins sees an opponent that still has room for improvement – and is quite capable of doing so – in the shooting department.
“Their couple of main guys haven’t shot it well yet,” Huggins said. “They have had games when they shot it well, and games when they didn’t. They beat Stanford ; it was a butt-whipping.”
Starter Kevaughn Allen is one of those, as he has made just six of his 24 three-point attempts, while Jalen Hudson is only 6-of-25. Offesetting, that, though are Nembhard, Locke, Deaundrae Ballard and Keith Stone, who are a combined 41-of-90 from long range. The Gators have shown good shot selection, even when they haven’t had the greatest success from the floor.
The match-up of experience (Allen vs. WVU’s Beetle Bolden) and youth (Locke and Nembhard against West Virginia’s Brandon Knapper and Jordan McCabe) could go a log way in determining the outcome of this Jimmy V Classic nightcap, which tips at 9:00 p.m. ET. West Virginia’s ability to guard at the three-point line will be put to the test, and should illustrate just how far the Mountaineers have come (and how far they have to go) on the defensive end.
“Florida could be the most athletic team (we have faced), Huggins said. “Buffalo was pretty athletic. Western Kentucky was athletic. Florida may not have better athletes, but they have a lot more.”
The Gators have not rebounded the ball particularly well, holding just a +4 margin in total boards on the season. That is an area where West Virginia will have to do well in order to pick up a win.
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The West Virginia learning process continues, and this game figures to be an illustrator of where that currently stands. The Mountaineers have improved to the point where they can defeat mid-major foes — even one picked to win its league — but where are they in matching up against Power Five conference members?
The education of WVU’s freshmen and newcomers continues through a variety of methods, but Huggins believes that one method trumps all.
|WVU (5-2) vs. Florida (4-3)||Date: Tue Dec 4||Time: 9:00 PM ET|
|Venue: Madison Square Garden||Loc: New York, NY||Series: UF 5-3|
|NET: WVU – 88 UF – 65||TV: ESPN||Last: UF 88-71 (2016)|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
“I think you learn by doing,” he said of the efforts to get the freshmen in the backcourt to the point where they can handle key roles. “You can watch film, it helps. I think it’s more watching what you are doing than somebody else. They aren’t whoever you want to put on there. You can’t tell them to watch John Stockton and do what he does because they aren’t John Stockton. They aren’t Rajon Rondon. You’re Jordan McCabe and Brandon Knapper. You have to play to your strengths.”
This game, played in the mecca of basketball, will test the progress to date. Huggins does talk to his players about the history of the Garden, and West Virginia’s accomplishments there, but once the game begins that tends to recede into the background.
“It does register with them,” he said of his teams. “You walk in there and you get on the elevator – and if the circus has been there it smells like elephants – and it opens up into the most famous basketball arena in the world.
“Once you throw the ball up I don’t think it matters. It is neat when you go in there and think about all the people that played there, but once you throw it up, you don’t think about it. I know I didn’t.”
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Huggins also sees the improvement process continuing in its passing, but notes that some habits are hard to break.
“I thought we moved the ball a lot better (against Youngstown State) than we did in our last game,” he offered, before referencing a comment about “27 dribbles” being a bit excessive when trying to run the offense.
“Dribbling is 100 percent habit,” he continued. “We got done playing in March and didn’t start full go until September. That’s a lot of time to pick up bad habits. You want them to improve their game but not to do things they aren’t equipped to do.”
Left unsaid, but still on is radar, are the dribbling habits of some freshmen, who were able to break down defenders with that method in high school, but finding must less success with that tactic in college.
WVU is currently averaging 86.43 points per game. If that rate continues – not a given as tougher competition awaits – it would be the eighth highest season scoring average in Mountaineer history. The top squad in that category is the 1959-60 team lead by Jerry West, which tallied 89.52 points per outing without benefit of the three-point shot.
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Florida’s hot and cold runs from the field are illustrated in its win-loss breakdown.
In it’s four victories, the Gators have made between 46 percent and 56 percent of their tries for the field, with three of those topping the 51-percent mark. In its losses, they have been below 40 percent, ranging from 34 percent to 39 percent. There’s a Captain Obvious part to that observation, but it also shows how closely UF is tied to its shooting.
By way of contrast, West Virginia has, in past years, been able to overcome poor shooting with advantages in other statistical areas, but for this Florida team shooting has been the thing in the early going.
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Connections with the opponent continue with this game.
Ripley native and Huntington Prep alum Chase Johnson is getting mop-up minutes in his redshirt freshman season with the Gators. He’s appeared in two contests for a total of 12 minutes thus far.
Florida assistant Darris Nichols piled up 399 assists as a WVU guard from 2005-08 while making 45.1 percent of his shots from the field and 78.6 percent from the foul line. He was involved in several of the most memorable plays of his era, including a huge blocked shot in the Mountaineers’ 111-105 double overtime NCAA win over Wake Forest and his game-winning jumper against Mississippi State in the NIT semifinals.