The last four Florida-LSU basketball games have ended very differently from the last two Florida-LSU football games.
While LSU's aggravated Florida's football wounds with a grind-it-out win in 2013 and another improbable comeback in 2014, the Gators have thrashed the Tigers on the hardwood over their last four meetings, winning all four games by double digits and trailing for 7:44 combined of the 160 minutes played in those four contests.
And last year, in the O'Connell Center, it wasn't close: Florida never trailed, bolting to a 19-7 lead that would balloon to an 18-point edge at one point in the first half and to a 29-point advantage before Billy Donovan put in reserves who allowed LSU to scratch back to a 79-61 final score with a 13-2 run in the game's final three minutes.
But while Florida comes into this season's matchup (7 p.m., ESPN / WatchESPN) with much less certainty in its stride and to its game, LSU is essentially where it was last season: Johnny Jones's Tigers finished 2014 at No. 58 in KenPom, and sit at No. 59 entering tonight, with a slightly better defense and significantly worse offense than they had a season ago. Gone are gunners Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman, and big man Johnny O'Bryant; in their places are big man Jordan Mickey, and gunners Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby.
Mickey patrols the paint well, and sops up plenty of touches, but he's not a particularly efficient scorer, nor is any Tiger outside of little-used sniper Jalyn Patterson, the only LSU player with a personal Offensive Rating better than 110.0. The Tigers run and run, and have the nation's sixth-fastest tempo, but they turn the ball over often, with more than a quarter of Gray's possessions ending in turnovers, and nearly an eighth of their offensive possessions terminating with steals.
That susceptibility to stealing hasn't been the Tigers' killer flaw — their four losses came in four of their five worst shooting nights by Effective Field Goal Percentage, but they've managed to survive their four most turnover-prone outings by Turnover Rate — but it's a poor match for Florida's larcenous defense, which has produced steals on just more than an eighth of opponents' possessions. And for its many faults, Florida has still managed to lead every team it has welcomed to the O'Dome by at least six points at some juncture, and built double-digit edges on every team except the Louisiana-Monroe squad it played with just six scholarship players.
It's a good bet Florida will build a lead again on this evening. If the Gators can hold it, and get a win, it'll be the first step toward putting together a worthy NCAA Tournament résumé.