On paper, Florida would seem to be more than a match for Jacksonville, the team it faces on Tuesday night (7 p.m., no TV, streaming online via WatchESPN's SEC Network+). Florida is 6-3, and its losses are to three teams ranked among the nation's top 16 in both polls, and in the KenPom top 11, with all of those defeats coming away from home; Jacksonville is 5-7, and its lone road win came in Jackonville — Alabama's Jacksonville, that is, against lowly SWAC outfit Jacksonville State.
Three of the Dolphins' five wins are against non-Divison I teams, and its only meeting with a team approaching Florida's level was a road trip to Florida State, where the Seminoles topped Tony Jasick's team by 19 points. This is not a good team, and its No. 309 ranking in KenPom is both well-deserved and likely to be the lowest of any team Florida plays this season.
Yet two things give Jacksonville a puncher's chance.
The first is the Dolphins' superlative three-point shooting. Jacksonville's 17th nationally in three-point accuracy, and making just under 41 percent of its treys. While Florida's fine at defending the arc, that acuity means that the Dolphins could bomb away and keep a mismatch close or better if they get hot.
The second, of course, is the confluence of recent history and pre-holiday ennui that combine to make Jacksonville a team Florida can never underestimate around this time of year. In 2010, Jacksonville came to the O'Connell Center five days before Christmas and beat Florida in overtime, 71-68. And while Florida's generally been better in pre-Christmas tilts since then — and isn't playing a team anywhere near as good as those Dolphins, who won 20 games, tonight — the fear will always be there.
The Gators probably need only to play their game to score a comfortable victory over Jacksonville. But with a tiny crowd expected and few reasons to get up for this game, that might be easier said than done.