As expected, the SEC is still about the Kentucky Wildcats and the Florida Gators.
Despite all of the worrying and the frustration that Kentucky fans have experienced this year, the Wildcats are still in position to lock up the SEC basketball title on their home court. This is what you play for, and Rupp will be a special place on Saturday.
If you go by the Jerry Palm, this is an Elite Eight level showdown. The Gators have an RPI of #8 while Kentucky is #10. The Gators best win was the 88-66 rout of the Wildcats, but Florida is just 5-5 against Top 50 teams.
None of those wins were on the road, and the Gators best road win was at #57 Georgia. The Gators are playing their best ball of the season with nine straight wins, and only two of these games were single digit games.
For his road struggles against the Gators are well documented, John Calipari has been pretty good against the Gators at Rupp Arena, going 6-1. The only loss was in 2014 when the #3 Gators beat the #14 Wildcats 69-59. There is nothing better than the big game environment at Rupp Arena. Let's meet the Gators.
#0 G - KASEY HILL (SR 6'1, 175) 9.7 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.9 RPG
#5 G - KEVAUGHN ALLEN (SO 6'2, 183) 13.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.5 APG
#23 F - JUSTIN LEON (SR 6'8, 206) 7.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.4 APG
#1 F - DEVIN ROBINSON (JR 6'8, 200) 12.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0,7 APG)
#13 F - KEVARRIUS HAYES (SO 6'9, 218) 6.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 0.2 APG
Kasey Hill has been solid, but not spectacular in his four-year career in Gainesville but he always seems to have a big game when he faces Kentucky. He torched the Wildcats for 21 points and six rebounds in Gainesville. He is connecting on just 18.2% of his three-pointers but is hitting a career high 42.1% of all his shots. He is a very pesky defender and is the straw that stirs the Gators drink.
KeVaughn Allen is one of the better shooting guards in the SEC and can carry this team on his back. He hits 39.5% of his three-pointers and 45.7% overall. He had an "off" games against Kentucky, hitting just 4-12 shots for 12 points. He is coming off a 26 point game against South Carolina. He went 5-7 from the field but 13-14 of his free throws. Justin Leonard has a good motor and is a solid defender. He also hits 41.3% of his three-pointers. He got in foul trouble in the game in Gainesville and had just 3 points and three rebounds, but he brings a much-needed toughness to the team.
Devin Robinson flirted with the NBA after last season, and he has improved his shooting a good bit. He hits 38.4 % of his three-pointers and 47.8% overall. He is athletic and explosive but still a bit inconsistent. In a recent five-game stretch, he scored 14, 0, 14, 4, and 6 He showed up against Kentucky, however, with 16 points and nine rebounds. Kevarrius Hayes is replacing the injured John Egbunu in the starting lineup, and he has 16 points and 16 rebounds in his two games since. Hayes is an effective scorer near the rim and hits 64.2% but does not shoot a lot. He has gotten into foul trouble in his last three games with four fouls. Hayes also plays good defense with 1.6 blocks, and he averages just 16 minutes a game.
#24 G - CANYON BARRY (SR 6'6, 215) 12.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 0.6 APG
#11 G - CHRIS CHIOZZA (JR 6'0, 176) 6.5 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.0 RPG
#25 F - KEVIN STONE (FR 6'8, 240) 3.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.6 APG)
#32 C - SCHUYLER RIMMER (SR 6'10, 249) 1.4 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.1 APG
Canyon Barry got in foul trouble in the Gainesville game and only played 18 minutes but still torched the Wildcats for 14 points. He is not as accurate as his Pops, hitting 42,8% of his shots and 35.3% of his three-pointers, but when he is on, he can take over a game like he did recently with 30 points against Auburn, He is a good FT shooter (89.9%) and shoots them underhanded, like his Dad. He has been nursing an ankle injury but should be in good form tomorrow.
Chris Chiozza has a high basketball IQ and is a solid backup point guard but lacks the speed and athleticism of Hill. He only hits 28.9% of his three-pointers and 38.9% of his shots overall. He has been averaging 12.6 points over his last five games. Chiozza struggled in the earlier game, scoring just 2 points on 1-7 shooting.
Redshirt Freshman Keith Stone is still a work in progress but is still prone to a big game. Against Georgia, he had 17 points on 3-4 three-point shooting. He only has 2 points total in his last five games, however. Out of necessity, Senior Schuyler Rimmer will see more action. He hits 42.1% of his shots, but it is a sign of desperation to see him get regular minutes as he has averaged just 5.7 minutes a game.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
I was apprehensive when the Wildcats took the trip to Gainesville because Kentucky was not in a good place, healthwise. De'Aaron Fox and Mychal Mulder played and were not at 100%. Now, the shoe is on the other foot as the Gators have lost starting center John Egbunu for the season and Canyon Berry nursing an injury. Statistically, these teams are about as evenly matched as you can expect to see.
Kentucky is a better on offense while Florida is better on defense. Kentucky does have a big advantage in depth as the Gator frontcourt is pretty thin and unproven once you get past the starters. This is another game where Fox and Monk need to drive and get Hayes to bite on some cheap fouls. If Kentucky can get Florida into early foul trouble, this should be a double-digit win for Kentucky.
The one "x-factor" is the three-point shooting of the Gators. When they are hot, they can blow you out of the gym. They are streaky though and shoot just 36.5% which is slightly better than Kentucky. Rebounding is also a must in this game. Kentucky had an embarrassing effort overall at Gainesville so you would hope like the Tennessee game, we will see a much better second effort than this team gave on the road.
Throw in the fact that it is a big game environment and that the Gators have not been a great road team this year and you have the recipe for success on Saturday. I think the right version of this team shows up and gives another complete performance like in the Tennessee game. It seems to be like flipping a coin to see which Wildcats will show up, but I'm betting it lands on the right side, putting this team one win away from the SEC title.
Let's call it 85-76 Wildcats.