If there is a game that fills me with dread every year, it is the Kentucky Wildcats regular excursion to the sunshine state to battle the Florida Gators.
John Calipari has been pretty successful against the Gators as a whole (13-5), but he has struggled in Gainesville, going 4-3. In two of those losses, the Gators were the higher ranked team.
It appears that the polls have Florida rated a little low at #24 because Jerry Palm has this as a potential Sweet 16 caliber showdown. Kentucky has an RPI of #6 while the Gators come into the game at #14.
That may be a bit high for UF as they are 0-4 against teams that are in the Top 20. Kentucky has two wins over top 20 teams and also a win over South Carolina, who beat the Gators.
All of that may not matter, depending on the status of De'Aaron Fox. Regardless, this is a must-win for Kentucky to lock up a top three seed, in my opinion. The Gators will offer two opportunities for Kentucky to notch wins against what should be a top 20 RPI teams at the worst.
Plus it's a key battle for the SEC East crown. Let's meet the Gators.
(stats through 2/1/2017)
#0 G - KASEY HILL (SR 6’1, 175) 9.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.8 RPG
#5 G - KEVAUGHN ALLEN (SO 6’2, 183) 13.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.2 APG
#23 F - JUSTIN LEON (SR 6’8, 206) 6.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.4 APG
#1 F - DEVON ROBINSON (JR 6’8, 200) 12.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0,7 APG)
#15 C - JOHN EGBUNU (JR 6’11, 255) 7.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 0.4 APG
Kasey Hiller has been solid, but not spectacular in his four-year career in Gainesville. He is averaging a career high in assists, but he has not had a 2.0 A/TP ratio since his sophomore year. He is connecting on just 16.7% of his three-pointers but is hitting a career high 42.1% of all his shots. Hill makes up for his shooting woes with his defense and averages 2.0 steals a game.
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 45.3% overall. He loves to shoot and had a recent 29 point game against Vanderbilt, going 5-12 from three-point range. Justin Leonard has a good motor and is a solid defender. He also hits 41.9% of his three-pointers.
Devin Robinson flirted with the NBA after last season, and he has improved his shooting a good bit. He hits 37.9% of his three-pointers and 50.6% overall. He is athletic and explosive but still a bit inconsistent. In a recent five-game stretch, he scored 5, 8, 12, 24, and 13. John Egbunu is a solid rebounder and defender with 1.6 blocks a game. His shooting has decreased from 59.1 last year to 47.2%, and his scoring is down 3.8 points.
#24 G - CANYON BARRY (SR 6’6, 215) 12.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.7 APG
#13 F - KEVARRIUS HAYES (SO 6’9, 218) 6.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0,2 APG)
#11 G - CHRIS CHIOZZA (JR 6’0, 176) 5.0 PPG, 3.5 APG, 2.3 RPG
#25 F - KEVIN STONE (FR 6’8, 240) 4.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.6 APG)
Canyon Barry is perhaps one of the biggest name transfers (literally) as he is the son of former NBA great Rick Barry. Barry was a solid scorer at College of Charleston and still shoots about the same level at UF. He is not as accurate as his Pops, hitting 42,9% of his shots and 32.5% of his three-pointers. He is a good FT shooter (87.5%) and shoots them underhanded, like his Dad.
Kevarrius Hayes is a long-limbed defensive force that averages 1.4 blocks in just 15 minutes a game. He is an effective scorer down low, hitting 61.1% of his shots, but has limited range. 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 25% of his three-pointers and 33.3% of his shots overall. Redshirt Freshman Keith Stone is still a work in progress but is still prone to a big game. Against Georgia, he has 17 points on 3-4 three-point shooting. He then had 1 point total in the next four games.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
This game does not come at a good time for the Wildcats as of the time of writing this article, Kentucky was still ravaged by the flu and other injuries to De’Aaron Fox, Mychal Mulder, and Sacha Killeya-Jones. Kentucky showed how vulnerable they were when Fox is not in the lineup so even if he is able to play, it is concerning if he is not at 100%,
Against Georgia, we saw some lineups together that we have not seen all year, but it is important to see how Kentucky closed out the game. The fact that Kentucky played on Tuesday gives them three full days of practice to get used to no Fox in the lineup, so I think that Kentucky will be better prepared if Fox is not able to go. It also helps that Florida played a game last night, so the Wildcats will be fresher.
Statistically, these are pretty evenly matched teams. Both teams shoot 35.8% from beyond three-point range and defend the three at a 31.3% clip (before Thursday’s game). Overall, Kentucky is still a little better shooting team, hitting 49.1% to Florida's 45.5%. Both teams defend at a 42% clip. Without De'Aaron Fox, these numbers take a hit for Kentucky.
Regardless of whether Fox plays or not, the Wildcats are running into a buzzsaw as the Gators are on a roll right now. They have won their last three games by a combined 106 points, although the teams have been pretty terrible. Point is, the Gators are clicking on all cylinders and even a fully healthy Kentucky team would have troubles tomorrow.
As of this writing, it looked as if D’Aaron Fox and Mychal Mulder may play. That will help Kentucky, but this will still be a very tough game the way Florida has been playing. I still think that UK is a better-rounded team and has more talent, but something has not been clicking lately.
I don’t pick against Kentucky very much, but I don’t get a good vibe from this game. I could be wrong, but let’s call it 79-73 for the Gators.