1. The front line of the Florida Gator starting attack actually begins with their three-pronged backcourt. KeVaughn Allen, Noah Locke, Andrew Nembhard start at the three guard positions, and all three bring different abilities to the table. These three shouldered the load against Kentucky in the first match up, combining for 29 of the team’s 54 points, 10 of the 34 rebounds, 4 of the 7 assists, 3 of the 7 assists, and 5 of the 9 turnovers. Starting at the point guard spot is Nembhard, who is actually the tallest of the three guards. The freshman was a 5-star and top 25 prospect, playing alongside Duke’s RJ Barrett in high school at Montverde Academy. The Ontario native is sixth in the SEC in assists at 5.1 per game, to go along with 8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals. Not a great scorer yet, but he can knock down jumpers if needed, hitting 35.7% of his threes on the season. Starting at the two guard is senior KeVaughn Allen, who is the Gators’ leading scorer at 12.2 points per game. He’s also giving 2.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and a team-leading 1.4 steals per contest. Allen can get hot and go off for big scoring games, scoring both at the rim and beyond the three-point line, hitting 33.1% of his long balls this season. Lastly, Noah Locke is the sharp-shooter on the wing for Florida. Another freshman, Locke was a 4-star and top-100 prospect that has taken advantage of this starting opportunity. Locke scores 10.3 points per game and scores most of his points from long range. 192 of his 267 attempted shots this year have been threes, and he’s making nearly 40% of them. He is fourth in the SEC in total threes attempted, fourth in total threes made, and just outside the top 10 in three-point percentage.
2. Similar to the lineups that Kentucky has faced numerous times this season, such as Kansas, Auburn, Ole Miss, and some others, the Gators have essentially one contributing post player, alongside four guards in the starting lineup. In the game just over a month ago, PJ Washington was able to have his way with the Florida post players, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. I’ll also note that this performance was with PJ at the four and Reid Travis at the five position. At the time I’m writing this, we still don’t know if Travis will suit up or play extended minutes in the game this afternoon, but either way, Florida doesn’t have someone who can defend Washington on a regular basis. The starting lineup for Florida is headlined by the three guards mentioned above, Allen at 6’2″, Locke at 6’3″, and Nembhard at 6’5″, to go along with 6’5″ freshman Keyontae Johnson, and 6’9″ senior Kevarrius Hayes. There are times that they start 6’6″ senior Jalen Hudson over Locke, but that hasn’t been consistent from Mike White. This lineup creates a size advantage at nearly every position for the Cats today, even if Reid Travis doesn’t play much. Outside of their starters, Florida brings 6’9″ Dontay Bassett in for 11.6 minutes per game, and 6’8″ Isaiah Stokes, brother of former Tennessee standout Jarnell Stokes, for 7.5 minutes per game. Not to mention that one of their first players off the bench 6’8″ and 253 pound Keith Stone, saw his season cut short with a torn ACL early in conference play. While Kentucky experimented successfully with a small-ball lineup of their own on Tuesday night at Ole Miss, even that lineup holds a size advantage at multiple positions over Florida’s usual starters.
3. In the first match up against Kentucky, Mike White’s squad struggled to score in one of Kentucky’s best defensive performances of the season. Scoring just 54 points, Florida’s leading scorer had just 12 points and zero players shot over 50% from the field. It was the lowest a Florida team had scored against Kentucky in Gainesville since 2013. As a team, the Gators shot just 34.9% from the field, 26.3% from behind the three-point line, and were just 5 of 10 from the free throw line. Florida fans have most likely grown accustomed to the low scoring outputs on a game by game basis, as the Gators rank 13th in the SEC in scoring and 282nd in the country at 68.7 points per game. Florida plays an interesting style, as their guard dominated roster forces an up-tempo and three-point centered offense. The problem in that, is that the Gators don’t exactly shoot the lights out from three this season. Despite attempting the second most threes in the Southeastern Conference, Florida is shooting just the ninth best percentage from downtown in the SEC. On top of that, the Gators shoot just 42.3% from the field as a team, ranking 13th in the SEC and 286th in the nation.
4. When Kentucky traveled down to Gainesville earlier this season, I wrote that the Gators were already on the bubble and needed some high quality wins to bolster their tournament résumé. Here we are over a month later and the same can still be said about Florida. Mike White’s team has gone just 5-4 in the nine games since the first loss to Kentucky. While the Gators did pick up a huge win at LSU in overtime, they didn’t take advantage of the second time they played LSU or their opportunity to try to upset Tennessee. On top of that, Florida dropped a game at home to Georgia in a brutal loss that could come back and haunt them come Selection Sunday. Joe Lunardi currently has the Gators sitting as an 11-seed in yesterday’s bracketology and lists them as one of the “Last Four Byes”, meaning that a loss to Kentucky could knock them off the guaranteed bid line and stick them on the outside looking in. Florida will need a strong performance this afternoon, as well as a win or two in the SEC Tournament to ensure they won’t be sweating out next Sunday afternoon. If Florida can’t convert against Kentucky today or make some serious noise in the SEC Tourney, the Gators will sit with Mike White’s worst record in his four Gainesville seasons.
5. The Gators come to Rupp Arena fresh off an overtime loss at home against the LSU Tigers, in which Florida blew a chance to win the game at the buzzer. If the Gators aren’t already mentally drained after a loss like that, coming into Lexington as a heavy underdog and getting beat up on by the Cats may do the job. Florida opened up today’s game as a 12.5 point underdog, which seemed like a huge spread to many in the Twitter-sphere. Bettors have agreed, betting the spread down to UK -10 as of early this morning. I, however, disagree that the spread was too large to begin with. I think Kentucky is going to come out pumped, as this is the last time a lot of these kids will play in Rupp Arena. Not only is it the senior day for Johnny David and Reid Travis, but PJ Washington and Keldon Johnson are also assuredly playing their last home game, not to mention the “maybes” in Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans. While I think some players could benefit from coming back for another season, I’m not going to ignore the reality that some players just want to stay for one year. Pair that emotion from playing in front of the home crowd for the last time with the fact that Florida has been very bad against tournament level teams this season, and I see Kentucky being able to run away with this one. The Gators sit at just 17-13 on the year, going 4-10 in games against quadrant 1 teams. For reference, Kentucky is 11-4 in quadrant 1 games, and the Cats should take care of business today.
Go Cats. Beat Gators.