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Finally, after three-fourths of the college basketball season, the two best teams in the SEC are facing off. Florida comes in on a 16-game winning streak, while Kentucky has yet to lose a home game this year. Something will have to budge in the first meeting between these schools.
A win here for the Gators would likely give them the SEC regular season title because they would be three games ahead of anyone else. A win for the Wildcats would make things interesting down the stretch and make a possible do-or-die season finale in Gainesville.
The Gators have been super impressive this year starting out the season as the No. 10 team in the country and staying there for most of the way. They have solid non-conference wins (Kansas, Memphis, Florida State) and lost to two ranked teams on the road (Wisconsin, Connecticut). Then you throw in their 11-0 conference record and it's an impressive résumé. Conference road wins at Arkansas and Tennessee were huge wins for Florida's chances of getting a No. 1 seed.
As for the Wildcats, things aren't as clear cut for them. They lost against most relevant teams early in the year, but then beat rival Louisville at home right before SEC play started. Road losses at Arkansas and LSU are what separate them from Florida in the standings. However, now with three straight road wins, including one at Missouri, the Wildcats are starting to come around.
While a loss here would hurt Kentucky a bit being a home game, it wouldn't do much too Florida's postseason chances.
This game will be a battle on both ends of the court at all positions. Kentucky freshman Julius Randle (15.8 PPG, 9.9 RPG) will meet his maker in this game against senior Patric Young (10.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG). Both have a similar build and both can throw down in the paint. Randle is the better scorer due to his jumper, but it's going to be a fun battle for every rebound.
If foul trouble comes about for the Gators against Randle, which it often does, they still have guys like Dorian Finney-Smith and Will Yeguete that have the size to deal with Randle. Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein will also play vital roles alongside Randle for the Wildcats.
At the three-spot, similarly sized Casey Prather (15.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG) will matchup with James Young (14.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG). Neither guy is terribly consistent, but both can go off any given game. Due to Young's ability to shoot the three, he's more of a threat on the offensive end for Kentucky in this game.
With the Wildcats getting a slight edge in the frontcourt, the Gators get a slight edge in the backcourt, although it is very close.
The experience of Scottie Wilbekin (13 PPG) at point for the Gators outweighs the height advantage for the younger Harrison twins. Both Aaron (13.8 PPG) and Andrew (11 PPG) get a bit sloppy at times with the ball, but have been playing better as the season rolls on. Wilbekin is joined by three-point specialist Michael Frazier II (12.6 PPG). He's a better and more consistent shooter than anyone Kentucky has.
The Gators may have a little deeper bench, but it's not by much and shouldn't have a huge effect on this game.
The Wildcats are at home and are licking their lips to stop Florida on its 16-game winning streak. If the Gators want to have a chance, they have to stay strong in the rebound battle and stay out of foul trouble down low, while Wilbekin and Frazier run the show. It's going to be tough for Florida to get the win, but it will be a fun game to watch at the least.
Predicted Score - Kentucky 68 Florida 66
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