Fresh off having won three straight games 30+ points, No. 24 Florida Gators basketball will host their hated rival No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. Here’s what you need to know and how you can watch Gators-Wildcats.
Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center — Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 10,151]
Time: 8:15 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas, Maria Taylor)
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
|No. 24 Florida Gators||No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats|
|Head Coach||Mike White||John Calipari|
|Record||17-5 (7-2 SEC)||18-4 (8-1 SEC)|
1. Rest will be a factor: Florida enters Saturday’s game off a turnaround of less than 48 hours following a home victory over Missouri on Thursday. Kentucky, on the other hand, has not played since Tuesday, when it hosted Georgia in its second straight home game. In fact, UK does not have a single Thursday-Saturday turnaround this season, but that’s another point. The Gators being forced to take on their best opponent in months with little preparation and even less rest is a tough ask, no matter how poorly the Wildcats have been playing as of late.
2. Still missing in action: Redshirt freshman forward Keith Stone, who was on his way to becoming an important contributor off the bench for Florida this season, has missed the majority of consecutive games while recovering from a viral infection and is questionable to play. Stone had been off the two games he played prior as well, going 0-for-9 with just one point since Jan. 14. The Gators not being at full strength while going up against such a talented opponent is an obvious issue.
3. Experience, homecourt and momentum should help: While UK is all about starting true freshman, UF will put four upperclassmen out as part of its starting lineup on Saturday. Granted, the Wildcats’ group is more highly rated, but the Gators absolutely have experience on their side entering the game. Florida will also have a raucous home crowd on its side, which can be overrated at times but may not be in this instance as Florida-Kentucky is the biggest game that’s been played in the newly renovated O’Dome and student tickets for the contest sold out in six seconds. Perhaps best of all for the Gators is the fact that they have renewed confidence since dropping consecutive contests. Florida has won three straight games by 30+ points for just the second time in program history. It is being termed the “most dominant three-game stretch” ever played by Gators basketball. While the opponents that UF played were nowhere near as talented as UK, that’s not something to ignore.
Pick and analysis
Spread: Florida -3 | O/U: 160
Picking this game rests entirely on the health of De’Aaron Fox and Mychal Mulder. If both are ready to go — and despite recent illnesses, Kentucky has a history of ensuring its players are healthy enough to go up against UF — then the talent gap is even wider than it would be otherwise. That’s particularly the case for Fox, who is the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer at 15.9 points per game but is also their best distributor (5.7 assist sper game) and a top free throw shooter (.704). Even Kentucky’s recent losses have been close — two points on the road at Tennessee, six points at home while shorthanded against a better team in No. 2 Kansas.
It’s nice that Florida is favored at home and its homecourt advantage is being respected, but the spread is likely due to the Gators’ play as of late, which includes beating up two of the worst Power Five teams in the nation. Kentucky is a different animal, and it’s well-known at this point that White is 1-11 all-time against AP Top 25 opponents while at Florida. He’s also 0-2 against the Wildcats, including a 19-point road loss and nine-point home loss a season ago.
It’s tempting to pick the Gators here with such a short spread, but the extra preparation time for the Wildcats along with plenty of experience against a variety of talented teams makes Kentucky the call — because even if Florida wins, it could still fall within the number. And considering none of Florida’s games against ranked opponents have eclipsed 160 this season, despite the recent uptick in scoring, let’s stick with the under.
2016 records: ATS picks 2-0 | O/U picks 2-0
» Kentucky is 99-37 all-time against Florida with a 35-24 mark in Gainesville. After the Gators won four of five contests from 2013-14, the Wildcats have since won five straight meetings with three double-digit victories in that span.
» UF has lost 12 straight games to opponents ranked in the top eight of the AP Top 25.
» Florida is 1-11 under White against AP Top 25-ranked teams and 37-9 against unranked opponents.
» The Gators have only used two starting lineups all season with four of their five players starting every game to this point. However, eight different players have led UF in scoring through 23 games.
» Six of the 14 players on Florida’s roster were either not on the team or did not step on the court during the 2015-16 season.
» The Gators are 33-9 under White when scoring 70 points or more and 24-6 when giving up 69 points or fewer.
» UF is 5-2 when its game is part of ESPN‘s College GameDay broadcast, as it is Saturday. That includes a 5-1 mark against UK (3-1 at home) and 0-1 mark at Tennessee.