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This game looks big on paper pitting the No. 10 team against the No. 17 squad in the AP Polls, but Florida will be the hands down favorite at home. To further this thought, the Gators are actually No. 3 in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) while the Tigers are all the way down at No. 23. These aren’t just random numbers pulled out of a can, they have some sense behind them.
In addition to that, Missouri will be without the services of Laurence Bowers once again. Yes, the same Bowers that leads the team with 16.8 points and 6.9 boards per game. That is the obvious problem. The next one is that they have yet to win a true road game this season. In their only other two tries, the Tigers lost at UCLA in overtime and were destroyed by Ole Miss (first game without Bowers) by 15 points. They have a couple nice neutral court wins over VCU and Illinois, but those aren’t true road tests and Florida is not an easy place to play.
Meanwhile, the Gators have pretty much blown out everyone they’ve played at home. They beat Wisconsin by 18 points, Marquette by 33 and Georgia by 33. Those first two teams aren’t easy opponents. Their only two losses came at Arizona by one point and against Kansas State on a neutral court (although it was basically a home game for KSU in Kansas City). Does Missouri have what it takes to stay in this game, or will Florida run them out of the gym as a welcome to the SEC?
The Tigers are the top rebounding team in the nation, but you can’t really use that number without Bowers in the lineup. The team will look to utilize transfer Jabari Brown as much as possible. He’s only played in seven contests this year, but has reached 35 minutes in five of those. At 6’5”, he is a sizable guard that creates mismatches for opposing defenses. Phil Pressey is the workhorse on the team, averaging almost 35 minutes per game in his third season. He does make some bad plays here and there which shows with his 3.4 turnovers per game. Still, his quickness is tough to defend and when he’s in a grove, watch out. Against UCLA, Pressey finished with 19 points and 19 assists. He’ll need another outing just like that if Missouri wants to keep this close. Senior transfer Alex Oriakhi is the man in the middle and the main the reason the Tigers are a good rebounding team. He’s averaging 8.6 boards per game to go with 10.4 PPG (very similar to his Championship winning season with Connecticut two years ago).
The help of Bowers would go a long way in this game as the Gators use two big guys, Patric Young down low and Erik Murphy who’s more of a shooter. You can even put Will Yeguete in that group as he’s a big kid at 240 pounds. This team is filled with experience. All five of their starters are either juniors or seniors, as is Yeguete off the bench. Kenny Boynton runs the show in the backcourt and is Florida’s leading scorer with 13.8 PPG. His size can cause problems for Pressey on the defensive end.
Due to that matchup, Brown and Oriakhi will need to step up even more to get things going for Missouri or they might not have enough firepower in the end to stay with the Gators.
Predicted Score - Florida 73 Missouri 55
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