For the first time in a while, I have no clue what's going to happen during a Florida Gators men's basketball game.
Florida's Thursday contest with Middle Tennessee State (7:30 p.m., Sun Sports/ESPN3, blacked out in SEC states) is a game against a fairly good team, but one very similar to the Blue Raiders squad that Florida handled in a low-scoring, defense-heavy game last year.
But last year, Florida had a point guard for that game. Sort of, anyway.
Scottie Wilbekin made his return to the court after a season-opening three-game suspension against the Blue Raiders, played 23 minutes off the bench, and tied for the team lead in assists with three. Florida also had trusted ball-handlers in Kenny Boynton (20 points, two assists) and Mike Rosario (nine points, three assists) to handle the ball above the arc, and better ball movement in general, thanks to more seasoned players like Erik Murphy.
This year's Gators will be trying to fill a void at point against the Blue Raiders, with Wilbekin once again suspended and Kasey Hill out due to a high ankle sprain. And there's no player like Boynton or Rosario to run the point: DeVon Walker, Florida's starter and likely primary ball-handler tonight, should not be confused with either Boynton or Rosario; Michael Frazier is a shooting guard through and through; Dorian Finney-Smith, teased by GatorZone's Chris Harry as a possible solution, would be a sight to see as a 6'8" point forward; Eli Carter, perhaps the most logical candidate to play the point, is well removed from full health, and might yet redshirt.
So Florida's going to have to make do as best it can, by stealing possessions in transition and relying on ball movement to get opportunities, rather than a penetrating point guard who could kick out. The Gators actually did that fairly well after Hill's departure against Southern on Monday, getting assists on eight of 10 field goals in the final 18 minutes of play ... but they made just 10 field goals in the final 18 minutes of play.
In addition, Florida's struggled mightily to feed the post, and thus Patric Young, with Hill around this year, and I don't expect that to change without him. Young might be limited to the sort of defense-and-energy performance he often thanklessly turns in.
Fortunately, this Middle team (the school goes by Middle) isn't as good as last year's, which trailed Florida 29-26 at the half before a 14-3 run to open the second half effectively put the game out of reach. Marcos Knight, that team's leader, is gone, but the Blue Raiders have four very good seniors in Kerry Hammonds, Neiko Hunter, Trantell "Tweety" Knight (Marcos's brother), and Shawn Jones, who has been a load underneath, compiling a 125.1 Offensive Rating by hammering teams on the glass and making 61.5 percent of his shots.
If Young can neutralize Jones, who had just 10 points against Florida last season, then I like the Gators' chances of winning this game based on good defense and just enough offense. With Hill, currently an average defender with great potential, unavailable, and Carter still not 100 percent, Florida will have little choice but to play big guards throughout, which will probably limit the Blue Raiders' ability to shoot threes.
But there's a significant chance that Middle will, knowing Florida's without a point guard, try all sorts of exotic pressure stuff to prey on that weakness, and we really don't know how this Florida team would play with a big deficit, though we got a good sampling of its scrappiness against Wisconsin.
And so I have to conclude that I know nothing and have little but hunches to go on, and embrace the unknown. It's gonna be a weird night. Let's enjoy the weirdness together.