Florida Gators Basketball: Keys To Defeating Duke Blue Devils

The Florida Gators men’s basketball team will play a national powerhouse in the Duke Blue Devils on Tuesday, December 6. How can Florida win?

Nov 21, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida Gators head coach Mike White talks with forward Kevarrius Hayes (13) and guard Canyon Barry (24) on the bench against the Belmont Bruins during the first half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As if the Florida Gators football team hadn’t been through enough, the men’s basketball team is about to play one of the best teams in the country. Just as Jim McElwain had to go up against LSU, Florida State, and Alabama in consecutive games, Mike White is facing a similar stretch.

Two games removed from facing the No. 8 Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Gators will now play the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils at the Jimmy V Classic in New York City.

With what’s all but certain to be a massive crowd at Madison Square Garden, Florida will face its biggest test of the season. It enters the clash with Duke at 7-1, but the Blue Devils have an unfathomably deep and talented roster.

With potential NBA players spread across the floor, ESPN PickCenter has the Blue Devils as a seven-point favorite over the Gators.

Though the odds may be stacked against Florida—overwhelmingly high, might I add—anything is possible in college basketball. Upsets happen often enough to believe that White could lead his team to a win over Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils.

The question is: what exactly must Florida do in order to pull off an upset of the No. 5 team in the country?

Nov 21, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida Gators guard Kasey Hill (0) shoots a layup over Belmont Bruins guard Austin Luke (1) during the second half at Amalie Arena. Florida defeated Belmont 78-61. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

5. Create Penetration

The Florida Gators are catching the Duke Blue Devils at the closest thing possible to a period of vulnerability. Freshman sensation Harry Giles continues to miss time due to a left knee injury, which has created an intriguing opportunity.

Duke has other rim protectors, but with the opposition’s best shot-blocker sidelined, the Gators should aggressively attack the rim.

Amile Jefferson is a force in the paint, but John Egbunu’s task will be to neutralize his impact by matching him on the boards and in the paint. Marques Bolden and Chase Jeter have size and length, but they’re also susceptable to foul trouble and turnovers.

If the Gators can pound it inside by putting Egbunu in the post, running the pick and roll, and helping the crafty guards, they can get to the line and control the pace of this game.

Florida is currently averaging 26.3 free throw attempts per game and shooting a respectable 75.7 percent at the charity stripe. Duke has done an outstanding job of limiting fouls, but Florida is the type of slashing team that could buck the trend.

If the Gators can consistently get into the paint and to the free throw line, they could create the foundation for an upset.

Nov 24, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Florida Gators guard Chris Chiozza (11) defends Seton Hall Pirates guard Khadeen Carrington (0) during the second half at HP Field House. Florida Gators defeated the Seton Hall Pirates 81-76. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4. Forcing Turnovers

As is often the case with a Mike Krzyzewski team, the Duke Blue Devils do an excellent job of taking care of the ball. The ball moves, but it doesn’t stick and it doesn’t often find the hands of the opposition.

During Duke’s lone loss of 2016-17, however, it committed 16 turnovers and gave the Kansas Jayhawks consistent transition scoring opportunities.

Florida may not be Kansas in terms of pure talent, but it plays rugged defense along the interior and perimeter. Kasey Hill and KeVaughn have active hands, Devin Robinson and Justin Leon can defend multiple positions, and John Egbunu is an outstanding shot-blocker.

Coupled with reserves Chris Chiozza, Keith Stone, and Kevarrius Hayes, the Gators have the defensive playmakers to force Duke into short possessions and turnovers.

The first key for Florida will be responsibly collapsing onto post players and stripping them before they can go up. Next will be accurately going for steals when Duke’s guards put it on the floor, as that isn’t their greatest strength.

This will be no easy task, but Florida must turn defense into offense if it’s going to defeat the Blue Devils in New York City.

Nov 24, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Florida Gators guard Canyon Barry (24) reacts and claps during the second half against the Seton Hall Pirates at HP Field House. Florida Gators defeated the Seton Hall Pirates 81-76. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

3. 3-Point Shooting

The Florida Gators don’t need to match the Duke Blue Devils shot-for-shot from beyond the arc; chances are, that won’t happen. What Florida needs, however, is to make enough 3-point field goals to keep Duke within arm’s reach.

There are far too many shooters on Duke’s roster for Florida to turn this game into a two-for-three type of ordeal.

Florida has struggled to shoot the 3-ball early in the 2016-17 college basketball season. It’s made just 31.5 percent of its attempts—No. 281 in the country—and has converted just 47 3-point field goals through eight games.

Fortunately, the Gators have made at least eight 3-point field goals in four of their first eight games—a sign that it’s possible to catch fire against Duke.

Florida has a trio of high-quality shooters whose low percentages should improve over time in KeVaughn Allen, Canyon Barry, and Devin Robinson. Justin Leon is making 1.5 3-point field goals per game on 50.0 percent shooting from distance and Chris Chiozza has been finding his range.

If the listed players thrive and Keith Stone can step in with another efficient shooting night off the bench, the Gators can give Duke some trouble with the 3-ball.

Nov 11, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Florida Gulf Coast Eagles forward Kevin Mickle (10) defends Florida Gators guard KeVaughn Allen (5) in the second half at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Florida Gators 80-59. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

2. Guard Play

The Florida Gators are preparing to face one of the most dynamic backcourts in all of college basketball. Duke has three guards who are averaging at least 15.0 points per game and a fourth who ranks amongst the best shooters in the country.

If Florida is to stand any chance at winning this game, Mike White will need his guards to rise to the occasion.

Luke Kennard, who can play guard and forward, is averaging 19.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.2 3-point field goals made per game. Grayson Allen is a National Player of the Year favorite who’s due for a big game given his early inefficiency.

If that’s not intimidating enough, explosive scoring guard Frank Jackson has found his 3-point range and Matt Jones can shoot the lights out.

Florida will need Kasey Hill and KeVaughn Allen to defend at a high level and create efficient offense. It’ll also need Canyon Barry to hold his own against Kennard and Chiozza to be a disruptive force defensively and a dynamic contributor as a facilitator.

KeVaughn Allen has proven capable of going off for high scoring totals in big games. This is the perfect opportunity for him to do so.

Nov 12, 2016; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) reacts after scoring a three point shot against the Grand Canyon Lopes in the first half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

1. Defend The 3-Point Line

If all else fails, the Florida Gators must be able to do one thing against the Duke Blue Devils: defend the 3-point shot. Running Duke off of the line is a win unto itself, no matter how capable they may be of finishing from within 3-point range.

Having already made 72 3-point field goals in nine games with a banged up roster, Duke deserves to be recognized as an elite shooting team.

Grayson Allen and Matt Jones are proven commodities and legitimately elite 3-point shooters, and Luke Kennard is beginning to join them. Freshmen sensations Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum both have effective range beyond the 3-point line, as well.

With just five players, Mike Krzyzewski can blow up an opposing defense by spacing the floor and going on explosive runs with the 3-point shot.

Florida has done an excellent job on defense in 2016-17, but this ranks amongst the toughest tests it will face all season. It’s also worth noting that, in its only loss, Florida let Gonzaga shoot 7-of-16 from beyond the arc—43.8 percent.

Florida needs to run Duke off of the 3-point line and prepare itself for rotations that will flood the floor with shooters.

This will be no easy task, but if Mike White can pull this off, he’ll take a massive step towards bringing Florida back to the NCAA Tournament.

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