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Florida Gators at Kentucky Wildcats: SEC Tournament Game 7 Preview

The Wildcats get the Florida Gators in back-to-back contests.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Well, well well, the Kentucky Wildcats get the Florida Gators tomorrow at 1:00 PM in a kind of déjà vu — Florida was Kentucky's opponent in their last game. Kentucky has the opportunity tomorrow to return the favor Florida delivered to UK last year — a 3-game season sweep. That will be a nice payback if it happens, but the stakes in this one are rather lower than last year, when the Gators held on for a one-point victory last year in the SEC Tournament championship game. This victory would only get the Wildcats to the semifinal round, but it would be the 32nd straight victory for Kentucky and tie the longest winning streak even across seasons.

The Gators got to this game by beating the beleaguered Alabama Crimson Tide earlier today. Interestingly enough, Florida needs this victory to achieve a winning season. The victory over Alabama just got them to .500 on the year.

For full roster information, see our first game preview.

Game particulars

Date/time: 1:00 PM Friday, March 13th
Place Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN
TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK Sports Network
Streaming: Live video via SEC Network
Audio: Live audio
Other: Live stats

Season so far

Florida has struggled this year, and it's been a pretty comprehensive breakdown in almost every aspect. The Gators offer decent resistance in the form of defense, but they are unusually scoring-challenged for a Billy Donovan-coached basketball team. The Gators are 8-10 in the SEC regular season, the first sub-.500 conference season since Billy Donovan took over for Lon Kruger in 1996. Given the talent on this Florida team, I think I would have to consider this his absolute worst coaching job since coming to Gainesville.

Recent SEC tournament history

Kentucky and Florida have met 16 previous times in the SEC Tournament since 1933. The Wildcats have prevailed in 12 of those meetings (.750). Kentucky last lost to Florida in the 2014 SEC Tournament.

Key Personnel

  • Dorian Finney-Smith, the Virginia Tech transfer, has been the star for Florida this season. Finney-Smith is a slasher by trade, but he is also a very effective 3-point shooter at 43%. He is an excellent rebounder and an all-around dangerous player. He is probably Kentucky's worst matchup, because he's quick and mobile enough to vex even Willie Cauley-Stein. Finney-Smith scored 23 against the Crimson Tide along with 11 rebounds, a resounding double-double. He is also Florida's best defender.
  • Kasey Hill is Florida's point guard, and he has been getting better and better game by game. Hill struggled for most of the year to find his game, but over the last three or four games, he has really been playing better. Hill has been getting to the line and to the rim more lately, and it has helped Florida compete. Against Kentucky, he was the Gators' best player. His assist rate is 77th in the country, and although he's not much of a threat from three, he is a quick and athletic point guard who can finish at the rim. He is a tough matchup for Andrew Harrison on defense, but a good fit for Tyler Ulis, both size and quickness-wise.
  • Michael Frazier II will probably not start against Kentucky because he's still recovering from a high ankle sprain. He did play 23 minutes against Alabama but was not particularly effective. The reason he gets mentioned here is because he can make threes at a prodigious rate and is a very dangerous player when healthy. Whether or not he will be effective against Kentucky could be a major factor in Florida's competitiveness in the contest.
  • Jon Horford is a graduate student who used to play for the Michigan Wolverines. He is a solid contributor on the glass and on defense. Horford is outmatched all over the front line by Kentucky
  • Eli Carter is a Rutgers transfer who is a weak defender, but a dangerous passer and a volume shooter. If he gets hot, he can be trouble. Fortunately, Kentucky matches up well with him. Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker are both big and quick enough to guard him.
Injuries/unavailable players
  • Alex Poythress is out for the year with a torn ACL.

Florida is a M.A.S.H. unit:

  • Dillon Graham has left the team for personal reasons
  • Brandone Francis is academically ineligible
  • DeVon Walker is out for the season with a knee injury
  • John Egbunu is ineligible this season serving his year in residence.


Four Factors
Team Comparison

Rank and Records UF UK
RPI #65 #1
Strength of Schedule #5 #36
Overall 16-16 31-0
Conference 9-10 18-0
Home 11-5 19-0
Away 2-9 10-0
Top 25 1-5 5-0
RPI Top 50 1-10 12-0 #43 #1

Game analysis

Like the last game, Florida is likely to be competitive with Kentucky for a good stretch of the game. It's hard to tell if they will be tired from the game tonight with such a quick turnaround, or if the Wildcats will be rusty after being laid off almost a week. Either of these things are possible, but remember it was at this time last season that John Calipari instituted his famous "tweak" that transformed Kentucky from a barely-into-the-tournament paper tiger to a NCAA championship contender. Can Coach Cal duplicate that magic with a much better team? I wouldn't bet against it.

UK has advantages at most positions, and the basic theory should be to get the ball into the post to Karl-Anthony Towns and Dakari Johnson for short shots in the paint. Dribble drives by the Harrisons and transition baskets off turnovers are the other pieces Kentucky has brought against Florida this season.

I'd like to see Kentucky attempt more threes in this game than the last. UK needs to shoot about 15 3-pointers per game, and even though there is a good reason why UK would want to get the ball inside to Towns and Booker against Florida's undersized front line.

Now that Kentucky has had a few days to take stock of their situation, it will be extremely instructive to see how they come into this game, one that means absolutely nothing in terms of seeding or invitation to the NCAA Tournament, but one which could be pregnant with implications for how Kentucky will approach the post season.