Florida vs. Alabama, Game Thread: Can Gators stay perfect versus Anthony Grant?

I love Will Yeguete's facial expression here. - Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Donovan's been unkind to the strongest branch of his coaching tree. Let's hope that doesn't end tonight.

Florida is undefeated in the SEC, and unbeaten against Alabama under Anthony Grant. The Gators will look to keep both of those statements true on Thursday night in Tuscaloosa (7 p.m., ESPN2/WatchESPN), when they tussle with the Crimson Tide.

Florida is 15-2, and riding a nine-game winning streak entering this game, having just won its first of back-to-back games in the Yellowhammer State over Auburn last Saturday. Alabama has lost two of its last three games, falling on the road (to Georgia and Missouri) before and after a home win against Mississippi State, and sits at 8-9 on the year and 2-2 in the SEC. But that 8-9 record is incredibly misleading: The Tide lost non-conference games to Oklahoma, Duke, Wichita State, Xavier, and UCLA, none by more than 10 points.

Recent history suggests Florida will be fine: The Gators are a perfect 6-0 against Alabama under Grant, who left Florida to coach at VCU before returning to the SEC at Alabama in 2009. This team, like the rest of his Alabama teams, has defense as its calling card, and plays at a glacially slow pace, averaging just 64.0 possessions per game, but that's nothing Florida isn't familiar with.

The Gators average 63.8 possessions per game, and play even better defense. And while Alabama's excellent on the perimeter, ranking 23rd nationally in allowing opponents to shoot just 29.5 percent from three, Florida's even better inside, sitting at No. 8 in two-point field goal percentage allowed (41.1 percent). This bodes poorly for Alabama, not a very good three-point shooting team apart from Trevor Releford, who has scored in double figures in all of his 15 games this year, and is seventh in the SEC in points per game.

Releford's been held in check by Scottie Wilbekin before, scoring just 12 points in each of the Crimson Tide's two losses to Florida in 2012-13, and he had more help then, in the form of Trevor Lacey and Moussa Gueye. Now, the Tide roster is rife with inefficient scorers — Nick Jacobs, Retin Obasohan, and Levi Randolph all boast Offensive Ratings under 100.0, and none has an effective field goal percentage better than Jacobs's 47.2 percent mark — and stopping Releford might short-circuit Alabama's offense, typically anemic even when he's on.

Florida will also have Casey Prather returning to the starting lineup after he scored 21 points off the bench at Auburn, and should get a rebound game from Michael Frazier II, held scoreless against the Tigers. The KenPom simulation has Florida winning a tight one, 62-58, but I think that's bearish, and I like Florida to win by eight or more.

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