Chris Walker will be the story when Florida takes on Missouri in the O'Connell Center this Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN3. Casey Prather has been the best player on the Florida for virtually every game of the Gators' season so far. Michael Frazier II has gone off for 17 or more points in four of his last six games, Dorian Finney-Smith has been relentless on the boards, Scottie Wilbekin is simultaneously excellent and underrated and Patric Young is coming off the most active game of his year.
None of those guys, I'm sorry to say, will be the hottest or most important player on the floor: That honor goes to Jabari Brown, who is about as hot as players get.
Brown just torched Kentucky for 33 points in a loss on Saturday. He scored 24 in the game prior, at Arkansas, and 24 the game before that, against South Carolina, and 28 in the game before that, at LSU, and 24 in the game before that, against Alabama, and 22 six games ago, when his streak of white-hot shooting began, against Vanderbilt.
During this blaze, Brown has made better than 50 percent of his shots every night, despite taking at least nine shots in each game, and made at least 50 percent of his threes in each game, despite taking at least five threes in each game. He is shooting 60.3 percent from the field and 65.7 percent from three over those last six games. He hasn't posted an Offensive Rating — a metric that essentially translates to points per 100 possessions when on the floor for any given player — lower than 121.
Jabari Brown is incandescently, scaldingly, impossibly hot right now. Missouri is 3-3 in those six games.
Okay, granted, one of those losses was against Kentucky, and the Wildcats played mad and inspired basketball in it. Another was against LSU in Baton Rouge, where the Tigers have lost just twice this season. But the third, in the first game of the singing, came to Vanderbilt, in the midst of the Commodores' 1-4 start in SEC play. Brown may be great, but he's not great enough to help this Missouri team reliably beat teams like Vanderbilt — Missouri also lost its SEC opener at home against Georgia — and that spells trouble against Florida.
For all Brown's recent hotness, Frazier still has him beat on Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) this season, despite going "just" 19-for-53 from three over his last six games, one of the worst stretches of his career. And Prather, without the benefit of volume shooting from three that jacks up eFG% — he is 1-for-3 from deep this year — is 34th nationally in the statistic, 0.1 percent and one spot behind Brown.
Brown may be hot, but Frazier and Prather have been scoring about as well, and they have a better team around them. Brown doesn't take the most shots for Missouri; point guard Jordan Clarkson does, and he shoots worse from within (barely) and beyond (dramatically) the arc than Brown, who is, at 47.7 percent from three this year, one of the nation's finest snipers. Small forward Earnest Ross is better inside than both, as you might imagine, but he is lamentably addicted to threes (101 taken on the year), and poor (29.7 percent) at making them. Twin towers Johnathan Williams and Ryan Rosburg stand 6'9" and 6'10" on Mizzou's front line, but Williams, despite being a ferocious offenisve rebounder, is below 50 percent on his twos this year, and Rosburg isn't a primary option for the Tigers: He's made two thirds of his shots in 2013-14, but taken just 60 of them.
And Missouri's much better on offense than defense, where they sit (at 101st nationally in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency) somewhere between Middle Tennessee State (91st) and Mississippi State (111th), giving up 1.01 points per possession. (Florida gives up 0.89 points per possession.) The Tigers have been especially bad on defense of late, giving up 1.10 points per possession in four of those last six Brown-dominated games, and recording a season high for points per possession allowed against Kentucky by conceding 1.25 points per trip.
Basically, Brown's been great, but he doesn't cover for every Missouri flaw, and Florida's also better than any team Missouri's seen thus far. Oh, and, also, Missouri's been shaky at best on the road, going 3-2 in true road games, and winning those three games — over North Carolina State, Auburn, and Arkansas — by four, two, and four points. Florida has won its four SEC road games by 16, 22, 26, and 33 points.