As Tre Mann crossed over, stepped back and sank a clutch mid range jumper Saturday, the sophomore guard clinched a 71-67 victory over Kentucky and cemented an NCAA Tournament bid for all but the nerviest Florida basketball fans.
With coach Mike White’s team virtually guaranteed to go dancing for the fourth-consecutive year, UF can focus on a top-three finish in the SEC — its best mark since 2018.
Florida will take on Missouri Wednesday night as the two teams enter their penultimate SEC matchups in divergent forms. The Gators have won seven of nine and picked up wins against ranked West Virginia and Tennessee programs. Conversely, the Tigers lost four of five and suffered double-digit drubbings at Georgia and Ole Miss.
UF will enter the O’Connell Center with a two-game lead over Mizzou in the SEC standings and two-seed advantage in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology. To keep their Show-Me State opposition in the rearview mirror, the Gators must best the Tigers in the following areas.
Missouri doesn’t boast the same length that has caused Florida fits all season long. The Tigers only sport three regular contributors taller than 6 feet, 5 inches.
Center Jeremiah Tillman is the tallest player on the roster at 6 feet, 10 inches. While the senior isn’t the most technically gifted player on the team, his grit and sense for the game can put the UF centers in perilous positions.
Tillman claims the most rebounds on both ends of the floor for Mizzou and ranks 58th in offensive rebounding percentage. The Gators corral defensive rebounds at one of the worst clips in the country and struggle at the weak-side block where Tillman thrives.
Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith and Alabama’s Herbert Jones are examples of talented big men who burned Florida on the offensive glass, and Tillman’s 60.5% effective shooting percentage situates him in that elite center category.
Tillman draws more than six fouls every 40 minutes, which ranks 41st in the nation, and claims the highest free-throw rate in the conference. The center isn’t an efficient foul shooter but can test Florida’s front court’s depth.
Colin Castleton logs around 30 minutes in Florida’s most competitive games, so an early trip to the bench could put the Gators in a difficult situation.
Florida snapped its three-point shooting slump Saturday with a 7-15 performance from deep against the Wildcats. Still, UF shot a dismal 27% over the prior four games. Missouri’s stout perimeter defense will make it difficult for the Gators to find their groove again.
Mizzou ranks 61st in three-point attempts allowed and surrenders just 32% in perimeter shooting. The Tigers are mediocre at defending the rim, and Castleton’s recent form shows that feeding the Michigan transfer should be a priority.
The Tigers are also a very foul-prone team. They allow a free throw attempt:field goal attempt ratio of 37.5 — a figure good for 292nd in the country, and a weak point UF can exploit by attacking the post. Castleton draws more than five fouls a game and excels as a free-throw shooter, so the junior should look to earn trips to the line.
Florida will tip off against Missouri at 6:30 p.m. inside the O’Connell Center. The action will stream on SEC Network.
Contact Declan Walsh at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @declanaw