Alabama Crimson at Florida
When: 5 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: Alabama 7-5, 0-0 SEC; Florida 8-4, 0-0 SEC
Radio: 95.3 FM
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Nate Oats makes his SEC coaching debut on Saturday but doesn’t expect a friendly welcome. What matters to the Alabama basketball coach isn’t the red carpet beforehand — it’s the reviews.
“It’s not the easiest game to start the SEC in my first year but I think our guys are ready, I think they are ready to go,” Oats said Friday as the Crimson Tide prepared to go on the road to face Florida.
The Gators were 8-4 in the preseason, slightly below expectations, but while UF has slipped out of The Associated Press Top 25, it remains No. 25 in the Ken Pomeroy ratings, third in the SEC behind Auburn and Kentucky. The Gators won the Charleston Classic in December, including a win over Xavier, but also have a homecourt loss to Florida State on their resume so far.
“They’re really talented,” Oats said. “They’ve been a little up and down but they’ve been playing better lately. They’ve got freshmen, like we do, and with (Kerry) Blacksher, it probably took them a little time to get going.”
Blacksher is a 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from Virginia Tech who was an All-ACC selection last season. In his first 12 games with the Gators, he has averaged 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
“They’re not a great shooting team but they’re good enough,” Oats said. “With Blacksher, that gives them the inside-outside game. Keyontae Johnson (a 6-5 sophomore wing player) does a little bit of everything for them. Their point guard, (Andrew) Nembhard is really good and Scottie Lewis, for a freshman, he’s a great defender.”
Alabama comes in with five wins in its final six non-conference games and is averaging 86.5 points per game over that six-game span. The Crimson Tide is No. 3 in the nation in 3-point shots per game (11.1) and leads the SEC in that category.
“The players have come a long way offensively,” Oats said. “On defense, we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Alabama has won in its last two trips to Gainesville, in 2016 and 2018. The last time the Crimson Tide won three consecutive games at Florida was over 60 years ago, when it won in 1955, 1956 and 1957.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt