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. 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 tied for third in the SEC in assists at just under 6 per game, to go along with 7.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. Not a great scorer yet, but he can knock down jumpers if needed, hitting 33.3% of his threes on the season. Starting at the two guard is senior KeVaughn Allen, who is the Gators’ leading scorer at 13.2 points per game. He’s also giving 2.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and a team-leading 1.6 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 37.3% 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 11.7 points per game and scores most of his points from long range. 133 of his 184 attempted shots this year have been threes, and he’s making nearly 43% of them. He is fifth in the SEC in total threes attempted, third in total threes made, and fourth in three-point percentage.
2. Similar to the lineup that Kansas brought to the table in Rupp Arena a week ago, the Gators have essentially one contributing post player, alongside four guards in the starting lineup. We saw how PJ Washington and Reid Travis dominated that game on both ends of the floor, and I look for today to be a similar performance. 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. That creates a size advantage at nearly every position for the Cats today. Outside of their starters, Florida brings 6’9″ Dontay Bassett in for 12.3 minutes per game, and 6’8″ Isaiah Stokes, brother of former Tennessee standout Jarnell Stokes, for 9.1 minutes per game. One of their first players off the bench was Keith Stone, standing at 6’8″ and 253 pounds, but just two weeks ago, Stone tore his ACL, ending his season.
3. Going hand in hand with Florida’s lack of a post presence on the roster, the lineup is geared towards shooting the deep ball. Unfortunately for the Gators, this strategy hasn’t exactly yielded the best results. Despite being second in the Southeastern conference in made and attempted threes per game, Florida ranks 13th out of 14 teams in points per game. The problem for a team that lives and dies with the three ball is simply that if they aren’t hitting shots, they’re going to lose. Obviously, Kentucky doesn’t want to let Florida see a few go through the nets early, but if they match their defensive effort from the last few weeks, it should do the trick. Adding to the problems for Florida is hat their complacency in settling for threes has stopped them drawing many fouls. The Gators are dead last in the conference in both free throws made and free throws attempted per game.
4. Head Coach Mike White is in his fourth season in Gainesville, but his struggles have continued to mount and this has been his worst season yet. Through the end of January, the Gators are sitting at just 12-8 and on the outside looking in for the big dance in March. They’ve had some bad losses through the first half of the season, including a neutral site game against Butler and at home against South Carolina. Looking through the Florida schedule, they really only have one good win and it was an overtime win on Wednesday over Ole Miss. The Gators absolutely need big wins to boost their résumé going forward and one over a top-10 team would be a monstrous step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see if Florida takes a desperate mindset into today’s game or if they already seem out of the race mentally.
5. Kentucky has actually lost three of their last four games to the Florida Gators. On top of that, the Cats are just 4-5 in games played at Florida since Coach Cal took over at UK. The Rowdy Reptiles usually make for a raucous crowd, and Kentucky tends to just not play to their full potential in Gainesville. The Cats have had five games in a row of playing really solid basketball, so there is bound to be a game where they aren’t at their best. Let’s hope that if today is that game, they can grind out a W in hostile territory. Florida was 5-1 at home in the non-conference with the only loss being the Gators taking Michigan State down to the wire; however, they’ve faltered early in conference play, sporting a home SEC record of 2-2. Florida is on the verge of being permanently knocked off the bubble, and the Cats could make them completely let go of the rope this afternoon.
Go Cats. Beat Gators.