Florida vs. Kentucky, 2014 SEC Tournament, Game Thread: A recent mirror

Kevin C. Cox

Florida and Kentucky meet in the conclusion of a three-game epic the Gators have rolled in so far.

Florida has a chance to sweep three games against Kentucky in Sunday's SEC Tournament final (3:15 p.m., ESPN or WatchESPN), which would be Florida's first three-game sweep of the Wildcats ever. With a win, Florida would be the first SEC team ever to win 21 games against the conference, perhaps the first team in college basketball history to do such a thing against teams with massive budgets.

With a win, Florida would have turned the tables on Kentucky entirely, and in just two years.

Two years ago, Kentucky had the best team in college basketball, and it wasn't close. The Wildcats went 38-2, and only barely: A buzzer-beating three at Indiana and a loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament were those Wildcats' only setbacks. And Kentucky was excellent against Florida, sweeping the Gators.

Those games all went differently. Kentucky all but ran the Gators out of Rupp, smothering Erving Walker and Bradley Beal. The 'Cats had too much for the Gators, who played well but not nearly well enough, on Florida's Senior Day. And then Florida played maybe its best game of the season against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, falling by three points despite giving everything it had.

I still think Florida would have had a fairly good chance to knock off Kentucky in a fourth matchup in the NCAA Tournament — one that would have happened in the Final Four, had Florida not lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight. But I have no illusions that Florida was better than Kentucky; the 'Cats were the best team in the nation, and Florida just not as good.

Two years later, I think the reverse is true: Florida is, in my opinion, the best team in the nation, and Kentucky is just not as good.

The Gators have the long winning streak, a 25-game span of brilliance that is one game longer than the 24-game streak Kentucky put together in 2011-12. The Gators have the two wins over Kentucky — by a combined 29 points, nearly the 35 that Kentucky beat Florida by in the two games in 2012's regular season — and the No. 1 ranking. They're the national title favorites.

And, also, Kentucky's arguably just as good this year as Florida was in 2012.

The 'Cats have hung around the top 15 in KenPom all year, but currently sit 19th, the same spot where Florida was coming into that SEC Tournament semifinal. Their one truly superlative skill, offensive rebounding, is a little better 2012 Florida's, shooting, but it is also somewhat mitigated by struggles in other areas. 2014 Kentucky finished six games back of 2014 Florida in the SEC; 2012 Florida finished six games back of 2012 Kentucky in the SEC.

Barbara Tuchman wrote A Distant Mirror about how the 14th and 20th centuries paralleled each other; this Florida-Kentucky role reversal would work for A Recent Mirror.

Does Kentucky's sweep two years ago mean Florida's going to win today? No, no more than Kentucky's loss in that SEC Tournament final means that Florida will lose. History is history and not much more, especially when it comes to Kentucky's roster construction, a different sort of five-star flipping than Gators are used to. Exactly zero of the players who contributed to that 2012 national championship team will don Kentucky blue today.

But Florida does have players who remember those losses well, and four of them start for the Gators. Those four, Florida's superior seniors, have made every effort to avoid every loss this season, and have been as close to perfect in that effort as any Florida team has ever been.

One more time, they can do it without a victory being necessary to cottinue their season. One more win over Kentucky, and this Florida team can go down as the first in SEC history to hold a goose egg aloft for 10 weeks and never drop it. One more great game against the most talented team in the country, and Florida will reassure itself, and the Gator Nation, that this team, this year, is different.

If you're not excited for this one, see your doctor.

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