Florida vs. Mississippi State, Game Thread: Gators trying to stay unbeaten in Starkville

Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

Surviving Starkville's voodoo will likely be Florida's main difficulty on Thursday night.

Florida's strafed the SEC for a 6-0 record in conference play to this point. The Gators will win easily if they stay on their recent level in Starkville on Thursday night against Mississippi State (7 p.m., ESPN2/ESPN3) — but they probably won't need to be at their best to win.

There are some bad teams in the SEC this year, and Mississippi State might be the worst: The Bulldogs are 254th in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency (Florida is 32nd) and 135th in defensive efficiency (Florida is 10th). And KenPom, accordingly, gives Florida a 90 percent chance of victory, and projects a final score of Gators 71, Bulldogs 56.

There's one mitigating factor: Starkville is weird — and I'm not just talking about its status as the least-liked SEC city. The Bulldogs are 11-1 at The Hump — Humphrey Coliseum — this year, their only loss coming to TCU in December, and have knocked off Mississippi, Texas A&M, and Auburn at home in SEC play. Florida's last trip to Starkville left the Bulldogs with a welt the size of the 35-point loss they took, but that win brought Florida's record in Starkville since 2005 to 2-3 — and that other win was a three-point triumph for the 2006-07 team that was in the midst of repeating as national champions.

But those past Mississippi State teams had more talent — Barry Stewart, Dee Bost, Jarvis Varnado — than this one, which has relentless rebounder Gavin Ware (eighth nationally in defensive rebound rate) and no one else who would fit on Florida's roster. Craig Sword and Roquez Johnson are average as scorers go, and while Ware's a great post player, he's one of two Bulldogs with an Offensive Rating better than 105.0.

Florida, for comparison's sake, has four such players — five if you count Jacob Kurtz. And the Gators have little to worry about, given that they have tightened up their perimeter defense of late, allowing just three triples on 31 shots in wins over Tennessee and Alabama, and that Mississippi State, ranked 298th in three-point percentage, is ill-equipped to take advantage of that weakness in the first place.

Florida should cruise in this game if it can get even a C+ effort. Though coming off a solid A against Tennessee and the announcement of Chris Walker's clearance may make getting up for Mississippi State somewhat difficult, the Gators should get that C+ effort, and then some.

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