This was supposed to be a battle for the SEC regular season title. Instead, both Kentucky and Florida struggled through the Conference campaign and are a long way from winning the SEC. For now, the focus is on getting to March Madness and competing into the second weekend.
The Gators have been one of the more disappointing teams after being ranked in the top five of the AP Poll back in non-Conference season. They were swept by Georgia and lost home Games to Ole Miss and South Carolina. At least for Kentucky, it has suddenly turned things around and is playing much better basketball than in the first meeting, which was back in mid-January.
It’s hard to even look at the result from that Game when Florida won 66-64 in Rupp Arena. The Gators somehow managed to steal a win while shooting 6-of-30 from three and losing the rebound edge on both ends. The biggest difference was probably Kentucky’s 17 turnovers, which were 10 more than Florida. But these teams are much different since that meeting, mainly that the Wildcats are suddenly potent on the offensive end.
The Cats still have a stout defense led by the best three-point defense in the conference, limiting opponents to just 27.3 percent. The difference is that they’ve found a formula that works on the offensive end with Jarred Vanderbilt joining Kevin Knox in the frontcOurt and Quade Green joining Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcOurt. Vanderbilt has been huge in recent wins, scoring in double figures and leading the team in rebounding. Green has given another ball handler on the perimeter, which has led to more open looks for Gilgeous-Alexander, UK’s best shooter. Then you still have Knox, the team’s best scorer and PJ Washington, a lengthy small forward. The talent has always been there for Kentucky, it was just about finding the right formula. Hamidou Diallo and Wenyen Gabriel are still there to help, but the aforementioned five players have been the reason for the recent success.
The same can’t be said of Florida, although it has turned things around with recent impressive wins. The Gators are supposed to be known for offense, but that hasn’t really worked in Conference play and probably won’t be the reason they win this one. Florida is at home for senior night, but Kentucky has revenge on its mind. It just depends if you want to bet against Mr. Clutch Chris Chiozza in his final home Game in Gainesville.
Nothing has worked consistently for Florida and that includes Chiozza, who has never really been a high-end scorer. He’s more into setting up the offense and helping create for teammates because he’s not a great shooter statistically, even though he always seams to come through late. The Gators rely heavily on the three and that didn’t work in the first Game even though they still got the win. Jalen Hudson, Egor Koulechov and KeVaughn Allen all shoot the ball a healthy amount in addition to Chiozza, but none of them are better than 41 percent from deep. If they struggle to shoot against one of the best three-point defenses in the country, then this Game could be ugly to watch again.
To have a better chance to win this Game, Florida would need to go down low and attack in the paint. Unfortunately, that’s not something they excel in between guys like Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone down low. Florida has turned things around the last two Games and the question is if it can bring that play into this Game. This will probably be another tight contest, but the Wildcats don’t want to be swept by the Gators.
Our Pick – Kentucky +4.5