Rarely is a matchup between Florida and Kentucky meaningless.
For much of the 2000s and 2010s, the two schools battled for SEC basketball supremacy.
The Gators and the No. 10 Wildcats will renew the rivalry on Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky, with the SEC regular season crown potentially at stake. Kentucky (21-5, 11-2 SEC) currently sits atop the SEC standings, with Florida (17-9, 9-4 SEC) a couple games behind.
But with just five games to go and another game against each other in Gainesville on March 7, there is, somehow, still a path for the Gators to move up in the standings.
Both teams come into this tilt in solid form. Florida has reeled off three straight double-digit wins since an ugly loss to Ole Miss and has won five of its last six. The Wildcats have won five in a row.
On paper, an unranked team walking into Rupp Arena doesn’t bode well, but it was just two years ago when an unranked Gators team toppled then-No. 18 Kentucky 66-64.
The Wildcats’ rank indicates a normal year for the traditional powerhouse, but that hasn’t quite been true beyond that and the win-loss record.
According to KenPom, this is a matchup between the No. 28 (Kentucky) and No. 34 (Florida) teams in the country and the two best teams in the SEC.
If the season ended today, that would be UK’s worst KenPom finish since it was 55th in 2013. It’s been enough to be the best team in the SEC, but this is still a relatively vulnerable UK team.
Kentucky’s adjusted defensive efficiency has slipped from eighth in the country last season to 53rd this season. Opponents’ field-goal and three-point percentages have decreased from last season, but the Wildcats have been unable to force turnovers all year. Both their defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage are 303rd in the country, according to KenPom.
Despite the turnover issues, though, Kentucky has the best field-goal percentage defensively in the conference at 38.5 percent.
Three of the seven best three-point shooters in the conference will be on the floor between guard Noah Locke (.445) and forward Keyontae Johnson (.391) for Florida and UK sophomore Immanuel Quickley (.391). Quickley is Kentucky’s leading scorer at 15.2 points per game and shoots over 90 percent from the charity stripe.
For the Gators, coach Mike White likes what he has seen from Johnson, who has registered double-digit points in nine straight games.
“The game has slowed down a little bit for him,” he said. “The other thing is he’s playing more minutes because he’s earning more minutes, because he’s defending and rebounding at a higher level.”
UF is currently 35th in the NET rankings with three Quadrant 1 opportunities on the schedule to close the season (both Kentucky games and at LSU). The Gators seem likely to make the NCAA Tournament at this point, barring a total collapse to end the season, but they will have plenty of opportunities down the stretch to improve its seeding.
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