Gators Face Second Quick Turnaround

For the second time this season the Gator basketball team will have just one day between SEC games. Florida's hosts Mississippi State Saturday afternoon in a game that has serious post-season ramifications for both teams.

Florida and Mississippi State both enter this game with 16-6 records, but while the Gators have won five of six the Bulldogs have lost three of four with the only victory coming over lowly LSU.

The last time the Gators faced a Thursday/Saturday situation they spend the night in Fayetteville and flew back the next day. With a shorter trip and earlier game time in Tuscaloosa Thursday night, Billy Donovan elected to bring his team home right after the one-point win over Alabama. While Florida gets that as a benefit, the 1:00 game time certainly is not what they would prefer.

Mississippi State comes in here with one big problem for the Gators to deal with. His name is Jarvis Varnado. The 6-9 center with the wingspan of a California condor changes the game at the defensive end of the floor. He has 115 blocked shots this season, which are 52 more than the entire Florida team. Varnado changes the way teams play offensively and probably alters as many shots as he swats away. His overall game is solid and he averages a double-double (13.4/11.2). State has two very good players on the wing in Ravern Johnson (13.7/3.5) and Barry Stewart (11.3/2.9). Point guard Dee Bost is not only a solid scorer (11.5) but he also averages close to five rebounds and five assists a game.

Kodi Augustus (9.2/5.8) and Phil Turner (6.2/4.9) are solid contributors, but that's about it for Coach Rick Stansbury's team. Like the Gators, State pretty much relies on six players when the game is on the line, so depth should not be a significant factor in this one. Florida will have to focus on the back boards because State is a strong plus-six in rebounding. The Gators could offset that to some extent by forcing turnovers since the Gators are plus-two in that category while State is minus-two.

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Most projections call for the SEC to get five teams into this year's NCAA Tournament. While that is hardly a guarantee, it is a pretty good barometer for where conference teams stand in the post-season mix. Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are clearly ahead of the pack followed by three teams that are very close in Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Florida. One of those three is bound to be left out on Selection Sunday, making head to head contests that much more important. Wins over the Bulldogs on Saturday and at Ole Miss two weeks later would make it awfully hard to keep the Gators out of the Big Dance.

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Looking at common opponents, as we did for the Alabama game gives Florida a bit of an edge, but not much. Both teams lost to Richmond and at Vanderbilt and both beat LSU and Georgia at home. The key differences are that Florida own at Arkansas and at Alabama while Mississippi State lost in those same buildings. The Bulldogs did, however, beat ‘Bama in Starkville.

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Another factor favoring Florida is the way the SEC Eastern Division has dominated the West this year. There have been 19 games pitting the East against the West this season and the East has won 15 of them. Take away Georgia's 0-3 record against the West and the rest of the East is 15-1.

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Saturday's game is the first of five remaining home games for the Gators who have zero interest in hosting an NIT game for the third year in a row. The next home contest is one week from Saturday when Xavier comes to the O'Dome in what promises to be one of those "bracket buster" type games.


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