LSU is headed for at least a share of the SEC regular-season title, but only if it can win this Game. The Tigers still have two losses in Conference play and likely won’t lose the finale against Vandy as a double-digit favorite. As for this one, anything could happen. Only a couple weeks ago, Florida went to Baton Rouge and took down LSU in an 82-77 overtime win. It went to overtime, but the Gators led the majority of the way behind a dominant defense.
After losing at home to a bad Georgia team on Saturday, Florida is riding the bubble and isn’t guaranteed an NCAA Tournament bid, especially with a trip to Kentucky after this one. A sweep of LSU would look great on the resume, but this won’t be easy for the Gators given how inconsistent they’ve been this season. Florida’s offense played one of its better Games of the season in the first meeting, scoring 1.15 points per possession with six players getting at least seven points including three with at least 15. KeVaughn Allen is the team’s leading scorer with 12.5 points per Game and Noah Locke is the only other player that averages more than 8.1 points per Game.
The Gators won that first Game, but it’s going to take another incredible offensive performance to beat the Tigers again. That said, LSU loves playing close Games, going to overtime five different times in SEC play, losing only the Florida one. There also haven’t been many easy road Games for the Tigers, beating teams like Arkansas, Missouri and Miss. State in overtime, in addition to Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama by a combined 11 points.
All signs point to this being a close Game no matter how Florida’s offense looks because its defense can lead the way. The main difference between this Game and the first meeting is that Ja’vonte Smart found his offense while Tremont Waters was sick, scoring at least 17 points in the last three Games. He managed just Four points in the first meeting in 32 minutes. Of course, some of that production will drop once Waters gets going, but to add another scorer like Smart is a problem for opposing teams. The Tigers already have bigs in Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams that can get a double-double on any given night, and that’s in addition to the trio of Waters, Smart and Skylar Mays, the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.7 ppg.
LSU has a significant height advantage, but that didn’t matter a ton in the first Game. Reid went for 16 points and 15 boards, but he also turned it over five times, while Bigby-Williams only attempted five shots. The Gators don’t have the height, but Kevarrius Hayes did a solid job of keeping those guys contained, while everyone helped on the glass, including Dontay Bassett and Isaiah Stokes in a few minutes off the bench. Part of the reason Florida has had some recent success is the improved play of Jalen Hudson, who has reached double-digits in the last Four Games. The team’s top scorer from last season, Hudson had been in a funk all year and is still only averaging 7.8 ppg. If that scoring continues to go with the same production and shooting from Locke, Allen and Andrew Nembhard, then this backcOurt could be a problem for a lot of opponents.
Looking at the lineups, it’s hard to see where Florida’s edge is, but that didn’t matter in the first Game. In close to a must-win situation if the Gators want to make the big dance, it’ll be tough to bet against the home team even if LSU is playing for the SEC title.
Our Pick – LSU +1.5