ESPN's Joe Lunardi summed up the stakes of Florida's Saturday trip to Mississippi (6 p.m., SEC Network / WatchESPN) in under 140 characters this morning:
(5) Florida @ Ole Miss (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET, SECN) The loser here is pretty much toast from an NCAA tournament perspective.— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) January 24, 2015
And, well, yeah. Florida, which needed resume-boosting wins even before its Tuesday meeting with LSU, subsequently got blown out by the Tigers at home, and now sits even further from the projected NCAA Tournament field than Mississippi, which isn't even really in the projections in its own right.
And if Florida falls in this game, the Gators will essentially need to win out: Assuming two losses to Kentucky, which seems more than fair, a loss to Mississippi would consign Florida to a regular season record of no better than 20-11 and an SEC mark of no better than 13-5, and there's pretty much no way, save an upset of Kentucky, that the Gators are getting in without getting to 20 wins or winning more than 11 or 12 SEC games.
So it's dance-or-don't for the Gators from here on in. And Mississippi's a bad place for that desperation to have to kick in, despite the fact that the Rebels have lost home games to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky this year. Andy Kennedy's team beat Kentucky at home in 2013, and gave Florida a scare in 2014, and this year's team is actually better than those last two Marshall Henderson-helmed squads. No one's come closer to knocking off Kentucky than these Rebels, and their excellent offense — helped immensely by an absurd clip of more than 80 percent from the free throw line — pairs well with a strong interior defense.
Florida could beat this team with a barrage of threes, especially since the Rebels allow plenty of them, but apart from Michael Frazier II miraculously finding his form, there's no reason to expect that, and there's no doubt that the Gators will struggle to score inside, as they have all year.
But Florida's staring its ninth loss of the season in the face, and behind the eight ball when it comes to NCAA Tournament standing. Struggling to a win would be much preferred to looking pretty in a loss.