1. Keyontae Johnson
I would be remiss if I didn’t start today’s post in mentioning Florida’s Keyontae Johnson. Johnson was the best player on this Gator roster this season, averaging 16 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1 steal per game, while hitting nearly 43% of his threes. Most of you remember that earlier this season, Johnson collapsed on the court during the Gators’ game against Florida State. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was placed in a medically induced coma. Eventually, he was brought out of the coma and was able to follow simple commands, before being released from the hospital after a 10-day stay.
The doctors have reportedly diagnosed Johnson with a heart inflammation, acute myocarditis, which can be a longer term effect of Covid-19, but it appears he’s going to be ok in the long run. However, the SEC’s Player of the Year in the preseason is out for at least three months, which probably keeps him out through the end of the season. An incredibly scary situation and you have to feel sorry for the kid. He has re-joined the team on the sidelines, in a spot on the bench labeled “Coach Key”. Not having Johnson on the floor is a big loss for Florida, and while they have adjusted, his production is assuredly missed. Last season against Kentucky, Johnson had 19 points and 9 rebounds in the first match up, along with 12 points and 3 rebounds in the second match up.
2. Trio of guards
In the absence of Keyontae Johnson, three guards have stepped up into the leading role for the Florida Gators. The trio of Tree Mann, Scottie Lewis, and Noah Locke combine for nearly 35 points, almost 12 rebounds, just under 7 assists, and more than four steals per game. Starting point guard Tre Mann is leading the team in points at 14.3, is second in rebounds at 5.7, and leads in assists at 3.6. His passing was good for top-5 in the SEC at the first match up, but he’s since dropped out of the top ten. Mann stands at 6’5″ and 190 pounds and hits 38.3% of his shots from three, while converting 83.1% from the free throw line. He also averages 1.6 steals per contest.
Just behind Mann’s production is former Kentucky recruit, Scottie Lewis. Lewis also measures in at 6’5″ and 190 pounds, but brings some different aspects to the game than Mann. His 9.3 points per game is down from 12.3 at last match up, while his 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists have both dropped as well. Lewis is a defensive weapon for Florida, leading the team in steals and ranking second blocks. The third solid guard in the backcourt for the Gators is Noah Locke. He’s the shortest of the three guards at 6’3″, averaging just shy of 11 points, but his assists have dropped from 3 per game at the last match up, to under one per game now. The three guards do combine for nearly 6 turnovers a game, so if Kentucky can defend well on the perimeter, there’s a chance for transition baskets. These three struggled against the Cats a few weeks back, combining for just 14 points on 5 of 20 shooting from the field.
3. The size factor
With any team that loses a starting forward and plays a lot of three-guard lineup, overwhelming size isn’t an aspect on Florida’s roster. Starting big man Colin Castleton is a junior forward from Deland, Florida, who played his first two seasons at Michigan before transferring to Gainesville. Castleton scores 12.9 points and grabs 5.9 boards per game, while blocking 2.5 shots. Since Keyontae Johnson went down, he’s has stepped up in a big way for the Gators. Prior to Johnson’s health situation, Castleton hadn’t scored in double figures all season. Since Johnson’s medical issue, Castleton’s averaging nearly 15 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game, while shooting a fantastic 59% from the field.
The problem for the Gators is that Castleton’s size is some of the only size that gets minutes for Florida. Measuring at 6’11” and 231 pounds, he’s the tallest player on the team and most of their interior presence. The only other player that gets contributing minutes and is taller than 6’7″ is 6’10” Omar Payne. Payne plays just 17 minutes per game, averaging 4.1 points and 3.6 rebounds. Payne is a solid rim protector while he’s in, at 1.6 blocks per game, but his offense isn’t a factor for Florida so far this season. In the first match up against Kentucky, Castleton had 6 points and 3 rebounds, while Payne had 2 points and 6 rebounds.
4. Since we last met
It has been nearly two months since Kentucky and Florida faced off in Gainesville, when Kentucky picked up their third consecutive win and fourth overall win on the season. The loss to the Wildcats put the Gators at 5-3 on the year, but Florida has picked it up in the weeks since that game. In the seven weeks since Kentucky and Florida first faced off, the Gators have gone 7-3 with wins over two ranked teams. The loss to Kentucky was their second consecutive loss, but the Gators stopped the losing streak from getting to three with a win over Ole Miss. Florida dropped their next game at Mississippi State, before reeling off four straight wins.
Within that four game win streak was a win over No. 6 Tennessee and a win at No. 11 West Virginia. The winning streak came to an end with a bad loss at home against South Carolina, followed by back to back postponed games before another loss, this one coming at No. 24 Arkansas. In the last week, Florida has won back to back games, one being at home against Georgia and the second being a blowout win at Auburn. The Gators sit at 12-6 overall, with an 8-5 conference record, good for fourth in the SEC. That coveted four spot is what Kentucky is hoping to steal, which gives a double-bye in the upcoming SEC Tournament.
5. Continuing SEC streaks
For what feels like the 10th time this season, Kentucky looks to continue a winning streak over an SEC opponent. Despite the struggles overall this season, the Cats have managed to continue multiple conference winning streaks. This evening, the Cats look to win their sixth consecutive game over the Florida Gators. Some other win streaks were impressive, but when they come against teams that have had major struggles over Calipari’s tenure in Lexington, it takes away the shine. Continuing the streak over Florida may be more impressive in my mind, because the Gators are always a solid team with a high level of talent.
After giving away t-shirts in the first match up in Gainesville, the Gators fell flat in front of their home crowd, as Kentucky ran up an 18-point victory, in what was probably the most impressive game of the season for the Cats. The Cats are a 2.5 point favorite right now, riding a three-game win streak. The overall series between Kentucky and Florida sits at 105-40 in favor of the Wildcats and they’ll look to increase their lead to 56 with a third straight win at Rupp Arena over the Gators.
Go Cats. Beat Gators.