Once again, No. 2 Florida overcomes slow start defensively

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After No. 1 Syracuse lost to Boston College on Wednesday, it has more or less been assumed that No. 2 Florida will hop up into that No. 1 spot when the new rankings come out on Monday morning.

The Gators have spent much of the past two months playing some of the best basketball in the country, but over the course of the last two games, Florida has been anything but great.

On Saturday, the Gators gave up 42 first half point to Ole Miss, 22 of which were scored by Marshall Henderson. They locked down in the second half, holding Henderson scoreless and giving up just 29 points in a 75-71 win, but it’s the second time this week that the Gators looked lackluster on the defensive end of the floor. On Wednesday, Florida dug themselves a 38-30 hole at the half at home against Auburn, needing the Tigers to make a couple of the dumbest plays we’ve seen all season long to be able to survive with the win.

That’s concerning.

Florida’s strength is on the defensive end of the floor. They have size, they have athleticism, they are versatile, they have quickness. They can go big or they can use two point guards. They can use a number of different variations of man-to-man, zone or pressing defenses. They are a nightmare to prepare for.

And they need to be, because the Gators can have some issues scoring the ball.

Florida doesn’t really have a star. Casey Prather is their leading scorer, but he isn’t really a go-to guy. Scottie Wilbekin is excellent in the pick-and-roll and has developed a knack for hitting all the big shots, but even he is more of a bulldog than he is a next-level talent. They’re good because no one is a liability offensively, but there is no one on that roster that scares you as an opposing coach. You have to build a game-plan around slowing down a Julius Randle or a Jabari Brown. The Gators don’t have that guy, and the result is that they can go through some lulls offensively.

Those offensive issues make being elite defensively just that much more important, and while the Gators have been tenacious in crunch-time, sleep-walking through the first half is going to come back to bite them eventually.