After two straight losses to Arkansas and Georgia, Kentucky is on their last legs to make the NCAA Tournament. They were floating around as one of the last teams in for the past couple weeks, but their most recent losses has them outside of the bubble. Florida, meanwhile, is still looking for a real win on the road.
A lot of people have the Gators as a three seed right now, but if they win out, a two or maybe even a one seed is possible. However, they have struggled on the road whenever faced with a tough opponent. Their last three losses all came away from home at Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee. Their best road win in Conference play probably came at Georgia, but it’s hard to say because they don’t really have a good one. With the way the Gators play on the road, this Game is by no means a lock.
Even without Nerlens Noel, the Wildcats have not lost at home since he got hurt, including an overtime win over Missouri. Noel got hurt with eight minutes remaining the last time these teams met so you can’t really compare how they performed without him because they were already down a considerable amount.
With the Tourney hopes on the line, the Wildcats will need to put together a special effort to beat this Gators squad. They were already lacking in depth with Noel, but without him they are only using a consistent six or seven guys each Game. While that worked last year in their Championship season, it’s a little different when you don’t have the same caliber players.
Without a great point guard to lead the way, Kentucky’s offense has faltered in half-cOurt sets. The stats back that up as they don’t have a player that averages more than 3.2 assists per Game. Archie Goodwin has been inconsistent at times, but he has picked up his Game lately and is their best scorer. He’s currently averaging close to 14 points per Game for the season. Goodwin’s help has been hit or miss, but Ryan Harrow has done his fair share of work averaging 13.6 points and 5.4 boards over his last five Games. since Noel went down, Willie Cauley-Stein has gotten a bigger role and has played well. His numbers are up across the board and even his blocks are up including seven in the win against Missouri. Defensively, they’re still trying to get used to being without Noel who averaged over two steals and Four blocks per Game, but it’s not that easy to forget a player like him.
The Gators has one of the most efficient defenses in the nation so that doesn’t help matters, but they also shoot the ball very well. On the outside, they have three players that can shoot the three in Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and SCottie Wilbekin. The problem with that is that they all can take you off the dribble as well, which is where they are most effective. Their best three-point shooter is actually big man Erik Murphy. With Four guys that can shoot, it’s not easy playing defense against Florida. Down low, Patric Young is a beast in the paint and can deal with any big man in the country. Now that they are healthy, their bench is starting to round into form, most notably Will Yeguete which helps their long-term chances.
The facts are there and while everyone knows Florida is the better team, that’s not always the deciding factor in these kinds of Games. Rupp Arena will be going crazy in the home finale and all the pressure is going to be on the Gators to get this win, to show they have what it takes to get to the Final Four. Of course, the Wildcats need this win just to make the Tourney.
Predicted Score- Florida 68 Kentucky 59