Kentucky rolls into Gainsville in a very strange state. After an excellent performance Wednesday night which saw Bobby Perry extend his good play to two games and some promising performances from Jodie Meeks, Ramel Bradley and Randloph Morris, UK finds itself facing a Florida Gator team in the midst of a slump. Florida has dropped 3 of its last four games, but this stat is slightly misleading - every one of them has been a road game, and the road in the SEC eventually catches up with almost everyone.
At home, however, Florida is perfect. In fact, Florida hasn't just beaten teams at home, they have obliterated them, with only UAB and Ole Miss coming within 10 points. Smarting from a midweek loss to Tennessee that only a powerful comeback prevented from being an outright embarrassment, the Gators will be highly motivated against Kentucky.
Florida by the numbers
Since I just looked at Florida a few weeks ago, I will refer you to this post for most of the statistical information - very little has changed since then.
A couple of interesting aggregated statistics pop up from recent performances. Kentucky had it's 4th best offensive efficiency of the season against Georgia at 127, but there is no trend there except for consistency on defense (the Vanderbilt and Tennessee games being exceptions).
Florida, on the other hand, has shown a recent marked downward trend in defensive efficiency. During the early and middle part of the season, it was routine for Florida to post DE's in the 90's, 80's and even 70's. But only once in the last 5 games has Florida posted a DE under 100, and that was against lowly South Carolina.
Taurean Green has been significantly off his game for the last four contests, averaging only 7 points and two assists. Joakim Noah has also seen his production slip lately, producing double-digit points only once in the last four games. Lee Humprhey has cooled off his deadly perimeter shooting, averaging 33% over the last 4 games. Among Florida's dynamic starting five, only Al Horford has maintained his mid-season form.
What it all means
Kentucky and Florida are both highly motivated to win this game. The Wildcats haven't beaten a top team all season, and Florida's seeding in the tournament could slip dramatically if they drop three games in a row. With UK on a slight up-tick and UF on a definite downward trend, this game has all the earmarks of a potential classic. Throw in senior day at Florida and the UK fan anger at Tubby Smith, and this game takes on a life of its own far beyond the repercussions for either team in post season play.
In order to win, UK must rebound with the Gators like they did in Lexington. In addition, they must do something they failed to do in Lexington - shoot the ball well. Defense is important, but putting the ball in the basket is the ultimate object of this game. The questions UK must answer mostly yes to are:
- Will Bobby Perry continue his good offensive play?
- Will Randolph Morris bring the energy he had against Georgia into Gainsville?
- Can the 'Cats ever find a way to limit turnovers to a respectable number (14 isn't that good, but for this team it would be stellar).
- Can we find a way to neutralize Florida's big men?
- Will Joe Crawford or Jodie Meeks step up?
Bottom line - I look for a good game here. I feel UK is rounding into form, and Florida may have peaked too soon this year. Chance for UK to pull off a season-defining upset.
Update [2007-3-3 9:22:11 by Truzenzuzex]: John Clay looks at the various possible outcomes of games vis-a-vis SEC tournament seeding.
Update [2007-3-3 19:18:15 by Truzenzuzex]: Ryan Ferguson at the AOL Sports blog has a very good look at the UK/Florida game.