How quickly things have changed for one of college basketball’s most perplexing teams.
Only 10 days ago, Florida had the look of a potential Final Four contender after piling up 108 points on Stanford, outgunning Gonzaga in overtime and storming to a commanding second-half lead against top-ranked Duke. The Gators have since suffered three straight losses, calling into question whether they are as good as they initially seemed to be.
It was a wasted opportunity when Duke rallied from 16 down in the final 10 minutes to beat them in the PK80 Invitational title game over Thanksgiving weekend. It was slightly more disconcerting when rival Florida State ran them out of their own gym Monday night. And it was straight-up alarming when unheralded Loyola-Chicago led from nearly start to finish in Gainesville en route to a 65-59 upset on Wednesday night.
Now Florida enters Saturday’s neutral-court showdown against Cincinnati in jeopardy of its first four-game losing streak since late in the 2015-16 season. The fifth-ranked Gators (5-3) will almost certainly drop out of the AP Top 25 with a loss against the Bearcats.
When diagnosing what’s suddenly wrong with Florida, it’s clear that wayward outside shooting is the biggest difference between the Gators’ strong start and poor last two games.
Buoyed by the blazing speed and playmaking instincts of point guared Chris Chiozza and the scalding-hot outside shooting of Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov, Florida hit 46 percent of its 3-pointers in its first six games of the season. The Gators have regressed to the mean their past two games as Hudson, Koulechov and KeVaughn Allen have gone cold and the team is shooting just 18.2 percent from behind the arc.
Florida also hasn’t been able to attack in transition as often, not a recipe for success for a team that lacks interior scoring, leans heavily on its perimeter players and too often looks out of sorts in half-court offense. The Gators only had seven assists compared to 17 turnovers on Monday against Florida State and produced only seven assists once again two nights later against Loyola-Chicago.
Even defensively Florida so far isn’t anywhere near as good as it has been the past two seasons under coach Mike White. The Gators appear to miss the ball-hawking instincts of Kasey Hill, the defensive versatility of Devin Robinson and the rim protection and rebounding of John Egbunu.
White yanked Allen and Hudson out of the starting lineup on Wednesday night in an attempt to play guys who show the most effort, but the change didn’t spark Florida to a the start it wanted. Loyola-Chicago opened a 27-14 lead and stayed in front throughout the first half despite a flurry of turnovers against the Gators’ pressure defense.
After clawing from behind most of the second half, Florida missed a chance to tie the game with 35.6 seconds left when Allen misfired on a driving bank shot. Loyola-Chicago then sank four straight free throws to close out an upset victory.
While Florida’s losing streak will surely inspire plenty of handwringing, the quality of the Gators’ opponents should not be overlooked. Duke is the most talented team in the country, Florida State has yet to suffer a loss and even Loyola-Chicago is 9-1, albeit against previously modest competition.
That should be little consolation to a Florida team with high expectations for itself.
The Gators entered the week a top-five team and a trendy SEC title pick. One more loss, and they will finish the week mired in a losing streak and outside the Top 25.
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