This marks the fifth game away from the O'Connell Center for the Gators, but just the second in front of a hostile crowd. Now, Coleman Coliseum is not the toughest building in the SEC and the ‘Bama crowd may be subdued since they saw the Crimson Tide lose by 25 to Clemson a week ago.
The SEC did nothing to distinguish itself in the pre-conference schedule, losing nine of ten games against top ten competition. The league is ranked seventh among conferences in its RPI and that won't change with just one non-conference game remaining (Tennessee vs. Memphis). The Vols (12-1) and Vanderbilt (15-0) are both top ten teams and Ole Miss (13-0) has been one of the surprise teams in the country, but after that it's a crap shoot. Tonight, the first dice will be rolled to try and put the remaining SEC teams in order for post-season consideration. With that, there are several keys to tonight's league opener.
Speights versus Hendrix --- Florida center Marreese Speights has been solid (14.5/7.6) this season and is coming off a career game (24/15) against High Point. Hendrix (19.1/10.1) is the best big man in the SEC and the only one averaging a double-double. Speights doesn't have to outplay the Bama bruiser, but he needs to come as close to breaking even as possible.
Gee versus Calathes --- They may not guard each other a lot, but these two need to perform for their teams to have a chance. Gee is a very difficult match up for any team because of his size (6-6) and speed. He scores 15.9 points a night and also is extremely physical as evidenced by his 8.3 rebounds a night average. Calathes (14.8/4.7) is not a physical match for Gee but needs to be as effective. His 86 assists are the most of any player in the SEC and he must make sure the ball gets distributed consistently.
Florida shooters versus Bama baskets --- The last two years you didn't worry much about how well Florida shot the ball because they were a powerful team on the boards, they played superb defense, blocked shots and forced turnovers. This team is not as good as last year's in ANY of those areas. As a result, Florida is definitely a shooting-based team. It's no coincidence that the Gators' three poor shooting nights (FSU, GSU, and OSU) are the three toughest games so far this season. They simply cannot be successful in this or any other SEC game if they manage to shoot a miserable 17 percent (4-for-23) from 3-point range like they did in their two losses. Calathes (0-for-8 in those two games) is a key in this area for setting the tone and setting up his teammates for better scoring chances.
This is one of those "house money" games for the Gators. They don't "have" to win on the road in the SEC, but every road win gets them a step closer to the 8-8 mark most believe will get them back to the NCAA Tournament. If they can win away from home against the SEC's best big man that will be a huge boost, and might even raise expectations.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
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