Alabama men’s basketball travels to Florida for SEC road opener

Austin Hannon, Staff Reporter

After struggling for three consecutive games, the Alabama Crimson Tide won their conference opener over the No. 18 Tennessee Volunteers.

Although the Volunteers were without star players Kennedy Chandler and John Fulkerson, the win could be a big momentum boost for the Crimson Tide as they hit the road for the first time in 2022 to challenge the Florida Gators.

For Florida, conference play hasn’t been smooth. The Gators’ first game at Ole Miss was postponed because of  COVID-19 issues in the Florida locker room, so Wednesday night will be Florida’s first conference game.

Although the Gators are sitting at 9-3, they are unranked because of one terrible loss. Florida lost by 15 points at home in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to a 2-8 Texas Southern team. The Gators also lost to Oklahoma and Maryland but have wins over No. 13 Ohio State and in-state rival Florida State. 

For the Gators, it all starts in the middle with forward Colin Castleton. Castleton leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks. He is currently averaging 14.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. 

Aside from Castleton, it is a very balanced scoring attack. Florida has four other players who average at least nine points per game.

“He’s a major concern,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said of Castleton. “We’ve had major problems stopping interior players that play with physicality. He’s a really talented player. We’re gonna have to find out ways to cover him in multiple areas on the floor.”

Like Tennessee, Florida plays aggressively on the defensive end. The Gators are 28th in the country in defensive efficiency and 20th in the country in both blocks and steals per game. Florida has allowed over 70 points only once this season.

Alabama will need to work on limiting turnovers against the opportunistic Florida defense. The Crimson Tide turned the ball over 15 times against Tennessee, with eight coming off the fingertips of guard JD Davison.

For the Crimson Tide, it will be interesting to see if forward Noah Gurley can continue to dominate the paint. The Furman transfer had 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Volunteers last Wednesday. 

“Gotta keep practicing hard,” Gurley said. “Keep doing what I’ve been doing to get me to this point. The work is always gonna show.”

Head coach Mike White is in his seventh season with the Gators and has a record of 123-75. White is on the hot seat, however, even with some of the success he’s experienced. White has led the Gators to four straight NCAA Tournaments, making it to the Elite Eight in his second year with the program. The last three trips to the tournament have ended in the Round of 32.

For years, the Stephen C. O’Connell Center has been a tough place to play for opposing teams. The Gators are currently 6-1 at home this season. Pair that with two full weeks off, and it’s going to be a tough game for the Crimson Tide.

“Being in a hostile environment, we’ve gotta come together,” guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “When we’re facing adversity, we’ve just got to come together as a team, stay positive and play for each other.”

Alabama’s last trip to Gainesville was in January 2020. The Crimson Tide led by 21 in the game but blew the lead and fell to the Gators in double overtime, 104-98. Guard Jaden Shackelford is the only player from that game who is still with the team, and he scored 11 points. Alabama leads the all-time series 76-70.

“We’ve got a tough road game,” Oats said. “We’ve let our guys know we didn’t play very well in the first road game at Memphis. We’ve got to do better and come out ready to play. Florida’s defense is one of the best in the country. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on our offense. Looking forward to it. Florida’s a really good team.”

Tipoff is set for Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2. This matchup will be the first of three road games in the next four for Alabama. The Crimson Tide will travel to Missouri on Saturday and have a quick homestand against Auburn on Jan. 11 before traveling to Mississippi State the following weekend.