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Florida vs. Georgia, Game Thread: Gators look to stay perfect in SEC play

Florida and Georgia have experienced a bit of Stegeman Magic of late. The Gators have to hope it won't come into play on this Saturday.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Florida goes to Stegeman Coliseum, it's rarely boring.

The last three games at Georgia's home arena between the Gators and Bulldogs, before today's 2 p.m. clash on CBS, went like this:

  • In 2013, Florida was down 11-2 before four minutes had elapsed, and trailed at halftime, but opened the second half on a 24-5 run and won by 17.
  • In 2012, Florida trailed 19-8, and cut that deficit to 28-25, then promptly allowed an 8-0 run and never got closer than nine points again, losing by 14 and beginning a three-game losing streak to close SEC play.
  • In 2011, in one of the wilder games in Florida basketball history, Trey Thompkins made a tip-in with a second to go to send the game to overtime, Erving Walker hit a 30-foot three to send the game to double overtime, and Florida scored 19 points in double overtime to win by 13 — and a score of 104-91. (That game had 89 possessions!)

We can go back further and find more close games — Florida lost by two in Athens in 2009, and in 2010 — but it's clear: The "craziness" of a rivalry that Florida has dominated of late — Billy Donovan is 26-10 against Georgia; Florida is 18-3 in its last 21 meetings with UGA — has increasingly been localized to Stegeman.

And Mark Fox has one of his best Georgia teams ever this year.

Georgia is No. 34 in KenPom, which would be the best-ever ranking for the Dawgs under Fox if the season ended today, and they've been doing it with defense (where they rank 29th nationally) and diverse, aggressive offense — especially in regards to drawing fouls. The Dawgs are seventh nationally in Free Throw Rate, and have paraded to the line all year; for an unusually foul-happy Florida team, a player like Charles Mann, who shoots almost as many free throws as he does shots, presents a major issue.

But Georgia is undersized up front — 6'8" Marcus Thornton is the nominal center, and 15th-year senior Nemanja Djurisic is his 6'8" frontcourt mate — and thus not perfectly situated to take advantage of Florida's own leaky front line, especially on offense. (6'8" reserve Yante Maten compensates for his lack of height with excellent shot-blocking.)

And Georgia has also been rather inconsistent: A game after needing triple overtime to dispatch Mercer (which isn't nearly the team that beat Duke in the 2014 NCAA Tournament), the Dawgs went to Kansas State and got a win. After a six-game winning streak to finish conference play, Georgia lost its first two SEC games — blowing eight-point second-half leads in each contest.

The Dawgs could make things hard on Florida merely by playing good defense, letting Mann do his duty of drawing fouls and making free throws (which he only converts at a 62.7 percent clip, it should be noted), and getting contributions from shooters J.J. Frazier and Kenny Gaines (think Walker and Kenny Boynton). But until the clock reads zero and they have more points, not even Georgia fans will be sure the Dawgs are going to pull out a win over Florida, even this Florida team.

And it's entirely possible that Georgia just won't have anyone to properly match up with the suddenly streaking Dorian Finney-Smith, who has scored 14 points in each of his last seven games, and has posted an Offensive Rating of at least 130 in each of Florida's three SEC games. Finney-Smith is too quick for Djurisic and Thornton, and will have significant height advantages against any other player who might draw him as a matchup.

KenPom projects a close Florida loss in this game. I'm not sure I agree.