Florida vs. Mississippi State: Gators storm Starkville, should cruise in mismatch

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

You know how the SEC is bad this year? Mississippi State is the worst SEC team.

Florida is very, very good at basketball. Mississippi State is not. This should make Saturday night's clash in Starkville (8 p.m., ESPN2 or WatchESPN) a fairly perfunctory contest for the Gators, who are favored by nearly 20 points over the Bulldogs.

After all, the players that should have made Mississippi State an NCAA Tournament-caliber team in 2012 — Dee Bost, Arnett Moultrie, Renardo Sidney, and Rodney Hood — are gone, and the coach that piloted the Bulldogs to six NCAA Tournament appearances, Rick Stansbury, no longer stalks the sidelines at The Hump. (It's formally Humphrey Coliseum, but whatever.) And in their place are a slew of players who can't shoot, can't defend, and love playing up-tempo games that give their opponents more attempts to run up big margins of victory, and a coach, Rick Ray, who said "I just thought we didn't make simple basketball plays" after Mississippi State's 96-70 loss to Arkansas on Wednesday.

Does that team sound like it's likely to compete with Florida, which has turned into a fierce defensive unit while maintaining its offensive efficiency and may just be the nation's best team? Florida's beating SEC teams by 24.8 points per game ... and the Bulldogs have three SEC losses by 20+ points already.

Florida will need to keep a lid on the fantastically-named guard combo of Trivante Bloodman and Craig Sword, but neither shoots even 40 percent from the field, and of the three Bulldogs who score 10 points per game — forward Roquez Johnson and wings Fred Thomas and Jalen Steele — only Johnson, at 40.9 percent from the field this year, is over that threshold.

There's just no reason Florida should lose this game, and the Gators should get their first win in Starkville since 2007, when the Oh-Fours beat the Bulldogs 70-67. If Florida doesn't, all the developments of a week in college basketball that should send it skyward on the almighty S-curve will have been for naught.

As ever, I'm going to be on Twitter and in the comments to chat with you and answer any questions.

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