Today, the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Florida Gators for the third and most likely last time this season in the SEC Tournament semifinals. Last year, Kentucky faced the Gators in the finals of this tournament, but by dint of earning only the #4 seed, Florida bumps into UK a game earlier.
This game preview is going to be short, as we have previewed the Gators now twice already. Please refer here and here for our previous Gator previews. Very little has changed, particularly since the last one just six days ago.
Florida got to this point by snapping their 3-game losing streak against a very tough Alabama Crimson Tide team. I fully expected the Tide to pull out that game yesterday, but Florida impressed me with their poise late in the contest when Alabama got the game to within two points and seemed to have a slight momentum edge. But Florida made their charity tosses down the stretch and the Tide missed some, and that was the difference.
Kentucky comes into this game a bit roughed up by the LSU Tigers, who decided that their best bet against Kentucky was to play the basketball game as much as possible like a football game -- tough, physical, and hard-nosed. It very nearly worked, as the Tigers were in the game very late in the contest and had a one point lead, 34-34, with just over 15 minutes remaining. From that point on, though, Kentucky's talent took over, and no matter how hard LSU played, they simply could not overcome that.
Updated Florida Stats
|Walter Pitchford V||11||1.5||0.2||0.7||25.0||0.0||0.1||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.1||0.2||0.3||0.1||0.1||0.0||0.1||0.5||0.4|
* Out for season with injury
As in the other two games, Florida is a very poor matchup with Kentucky. Florida has very limited options inside and lacks the depth in the paint that you would normally need to be competitive with Kentucky. The Wildcats can simply shoot over the top of Florida on offense, and defensively, Florida must make threes, at least 10, to be competitive.
This tends to make game-planning for Florida rather easy -- force them to put it on the floor and shoot the ball inside the arc, where Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones await to alter or reject shots. In the last game in Gainesville, Florida decided to do the one other thing that can get them open looks from three, and that was to try to force the game into an up-tempo contest. Florida does a great job of getting open 3-point looks in transition.
The Gators sped up that game just like they wanted, and Kentucky let them, which produced a big comeback for Florida from 12 points down in the first half. The Wildcats eventually got John Calipari's message, started controlling the pace, and let their size and superior talent take over the game. The end result was a comfortable win in Gainesville on Florida's senior day.
I'm not sure what Billy Donovan has up his sleeve today, but his options are limited by his personnel. There is no doubt that Florida can win this game if they get hot from the perimeter and Kentucky yields open looks to them -- the Gators are among the best 3-point shooting teams in the country. But the odds don't favor the Gators in this contest unless Donovan can come up with something that gets more open shots to his shooters. Patric Young will be a force inside, as he always is, but he is not going to put up 20+ points, he just doesn't have that kind of game.
But after yesterday's debacle, I consider anything a possibility. I hope to see Kentucky come out and play the right way today, and I'll be closely watching Marquis Teague to see if he has recovered from whatever (hopefully temporary) madness took possession of him and turned him from one of the better point guards in the SEC to a complete mess yesterday. I prefer to think of it as just a bad game. We'll see.
At any rate, I like the 'Cats in this one, at least the Wildcats of the last couple of weeks and not the Mildcats that got dominated defensively on the perimeter yesterday. I expect that's the last we'll see of the Mildcats, and I fully expect Kentucky to return to NCAA championship form today against Florida.