Mississippi State begins the third week of Southeastern Conference play still in search of a win.
The Bulldogs have dropped their first four SEC outings by an average of only 6.5 points and have been down one score with five minutes or less left in every league game.
MSU will try to avoid its first 0-5 start in the conference since 1985-86 when it travels to Florida tonight at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.
Even as poorly as the Bulldogs’ 7-9 record and 0-4 start in SEC play may appear on paper, first-year Gators coach Michael White is not overlooking the experience and talent on Ben Howland‘s roster.
“Mississippi State’s record is very misleading,” White said. “I think they’re extremely capable. I think Gavin Ware is playing as well as any big guy in our league. They are very experienced with 1,000-point scorers. They have guys that have been there and done that, had success and played a lot of minutes in this league.
“When you add a Malik Newman, who is as talented as any freshman in the country, to that mix then you’ve got yourself a very dangerous team.”
Ware tops State with 17.1 points and eight rebounds and leads the conference shooting 63.6 percent from the field while Newman and Craig Sword are adding 12.7 and 12.6 points respectively.
The Bulldogs are expected to scrap their zone defensive philosophy they have used over the last month and switch to man-to-man for the remainder of the year.
“We got hurt on it early on which is why I went away from it,” Howland said.
Howland also started four guards while keeping Ware down low during the last game against Tennessee.
Although he was pleased with the career-high 23 points he received from Quinndary Weatherspoon playing at the four, Howland admitted that playing small may not work against larger teams in the future.
Florida is 11-6 on the year and off to a 3-2 start in the league. The Gators are coming off an 80-71 victory at Ole Miss on Saturday in which freshman guard KeVaughn Allen poured in 27 points.
“Florida’s coming off a great win,” Howland said. “They played exceptional, probably their best game of the year. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. They have some really good, young players. Allen is a heck of a player.”
Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith leads the Gators with 13.6 points and 7.7 boards per game.
Florida has won the last five meetings against the Bulldogs and own a 62-49 edge in the series. The Gators won last year’s meeting in Gainesville 72-47 as I.J. Ready and Fred Thomas were the only two Mississippi State players in double figures with 10 each.