No. 3 Florida presents major challenge for MSU

January 29, 2014 8:26:16 PM

Matthew Stevens - [email protected]


STARKVILLE -- The two things Mississippi State never wants to see consistently in a opponent's defense is constant pressure that backs into a zone look.  


Guess what two things Florida coach Billy Donovan has gotten his team to excel at during their current 11-game winning streak? 


MSU coach Rick Ray knows his Bulldogs (13-6, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference) will have to take care of the basketball and make timely jump shots to force Florida to guard them man-to-man in the half court.  


"They're doing the same thing as always with their 94 feet of run and jump pressure but what they've changed up a little this year is being able to fall back into a solid 2-3 zone," Ray said Monday. "That's really hard for a team to go from fast and aggressive to lulling you into jump shots." 


Florida (17-2, 6-0), ranked No. 3 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, is looking to avoid being MSU's first upset against a ranked opponent since beating No. 18 Arizona in November of 2011. MSU has not lost consecutive home games against Florida since doing so in 2001 and 2003 and has not lost two-straight games all season. 


The Gators have adapted all season to a transition roster. Donovan was missing six players due to suspension, illness or injury as the program prepared for its season opening game against North Florida. However, it's been the Gators defensive intensity and zone trap that has allowed them to pick up nationally relevant wins over Kansas, Memphis and Florida State before starting 6-0 in league play.  


"Even though you have different parts and sometimes the parts aren't the same, but these four seniors were on last year's team," Donovan said. "I think that with the dynamics of our team over the last couple of years those guys could see the value in some of that leadership stuff in terms of communication and helping." 


Florida is currently third in the SEC in field goal percentage defense and will likely make MSU, the worst three-point shooting team in the league, shoot jump shots over their zone before they switch out of their natural half-court scheme. The Gators led the SEC play through six league games by allowing just 59 points per game. 


"I think having multiple weapons on offense and defense keeps teams on their toes," Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II said. "Anytime we can go into a game and throw zone at them or the press at them I think it is always good to change up our defenses so that they can't focus on one thing. This year we have been effective in the press, the 1-3-1, man and in zone, so it's been a weapon. I like all of them, as long as we get stops." 


Frazier II was named SEC player of the week after averaging 17.5 points three rebounds and 2.5 assists in wins at Alabama and against Tennessee. Frazier hit 48 percent from the floor and 42 percent from beyond the arc. He connected on five three-pointers against Alabama for the fifth time this season, more than any UF player had last year, while also matching a career-best three assists in the game.  


"My coaches and teammates have done a great job of drilling into my head to have a short memory," Frazier II said. "I know as a shooter it is supposed to be important, but for some odd reason I can't seem to get that into my head. I think I am getting better at it. My teammates and coaches stay on me about it. Just shoot when I am open, and that is what I am trying to do." 


MSU is just 12th in the league with only 4.8 three-pointers per game and the only player shooting over 31 percent from beyond the arc is freshman point guard IJ Ready.  


"Basically the fact is we're going to have to get shots to fall in bunches because it's frustrating how teams are just able to sit back in zone to guard us," MSU leading scorer Craig Sword said.  


Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.