Florida's 12-point margin of victory against Alabama in a game played just two weeks ago is deceiving: Florida led 56-50 with two minutes to go before running that lead to 64-50, and trailed 47-41 at the 9:54 mark. That game alone put the lie to the perception of the Gators as a fragile band of brothers who crumbled in the face of adversity.
But it was also an indication that Florida has weaknesses, and ones that Alabama is well-suited to exploit.
Florida shot poorly from distance on that day, making just two of 13 threes taken, and got hammered on the glass, giving up 10 offensive boards on 30 misses, seven of which led immediately to Alabama buckets. Alabama's three-point defense is quite good (31.1 percent, 49th nationally), so that figure made sense, but its offensive rebounding is lacking (32.0 percent, 159th nationally), which made the board victory baffling.
Except, of course, for the fact that Nick Jacobs (four offensive rebounds) and Moussa Gueye (instrumental in a few others) are both the kind of loads (Jacobs is 265 pounds; Gueye's a seven-footer, and not a stringy one) that trouble a quicker, smaller Florida front line. Will Yeguete playing his first game after knee surgery didn't help, either.
The greatest strength of Alabama's very good defense (25th in adjusted efficiency), though, is the larceny of Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey, who each take away the ball on better than 3.0 percent of opponents' possessions ... and it got neutralized by fairly sound play from Florida, which preferred to give up its turnovers on hideous passes, with Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin combining for seven of Florida's 10 turnovers on the day.
If this is a game dictated by Alabama's defense, much like the last one was, Florida's going to have its hands full. If Florida's defense can dictate, and keep Alabama from erasing leads like the 19-8 one the Gators held in the first half, it's going to be hard for the Gators to be beaten.
Florida played well and relatively passionately on Friday in eviscerating LSU, but Alabama is likely to challenge the Gators to go up another notch, with a win over Florida likely earning the Crimson Tide one of the last few NCAA Tournament berths.
I think Florida shows up today with the knowledge that it can beat the teams remaining in the SEC Tournament (in addition to Alabama eliminating Florida conqueror Tennessee, Vanderbilt topped Kentucky and Mississippi downed Missouri on Friday) and shuts down Alabama. I also think Florida continues its string of 25 straight wins by double digits in doing do.
But I really don't care how the Gators roll back the Tide, as long as they do.