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Florida vs. FSU, Game Thread: Gators look to shut down talented Seminoles

The O'Dome hasn't seen a Florida loss to FSU this decade. Will that trend continue?

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Florida fell to Florida State when the teams last met in 2014, with a Jacob Kurtz tip-in giving the Seminoles an incredible 65-63 victory that prompted the shortest recap in Alligator Army history. When the Gators and Seminoles meet again tonight in Gainesville (7 p.m., ESPN2), Florida will be seeking its sixth win in seven games in the series — and should get it.

In some ways, Mike White's Gators are currently a superior version of the Seminoles that Leonard Hamilton commands. Florida's struggled to score for much of its non-conference schedule, but plays elite defense, currently the second-best on a per-possession basis in Division I. The Gators have scored more than 80 points just three times — on lowly North Carolina A&T and Jacksonville, and a decent Vermont outfit — but haven't allowed a team other than Purdue to score more than 70 points all season.

FSU, similarly, is better on defense (No. 22 in KenPom) than offense (No. 96 to Florida's No. 99), and has spent its non-conference schedule doing more locking down other teams than lighting up scoreboards. That's been especially true since December began: While Florida State is 5-1 in the month, and has lost only at a very good Iowa team, the 'Noles have scored better than a point per possession just twice in six games, and failed to do so against overmatched Florida Atlantic and Charleston Southern teams in their last two outings.

The Seminoles do have three significant matchup problems for Florida — or anyone — in sensational sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes and fantastic freshmen Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley, all of whom have legitimate NBA potential. FSU's biggest problem in terms of offensive efficiency thus far this season is that only Beasley has shown the ability to shoot: He's sinking almost 43 percent of his threes, while Beasley and Rathan-Mayes are both well under 30 percent from distance, but have taken at least 30 threes each despite that. Add in Devon Bookert's 9-for-40 performance from distance — for perspective, Kenny Boynton shot a comparatively sizzling 29.4 percent from three as a freshman, and Kasey Hill's career mark of 22.1 percent is only slightly worse than Bookert's 22.5 percent this season — and FSU is taking a whole lot of threes that aren't going in.

Both teams, in fact, are shooting under 30 percent from three on the year, and among just four Power Five teams ranked lower than No. 300 in three-point percentage nationally. Florida's 28.6 percent clip is even worse than FSU's 29.7 percent rate. Don't expect threes to rain in in the O'Dome tonight.

Instead, this game may turn on the play of both frontcourts, as John Egbunu and Dorian Finney-Smith lean on FSU's Boris Bojanovsky, Montay Brandon, and Jarquez Smith. Or it might come down to someone getting hot — KeVaughn Allen would be a good candidate to do so for the Gators, and Beasley or Rathan-Mayes could certainly heat up for the 'Noles.

More likely, though, this one should be an ugly contest that might simply reward the better defense for limiting two practically even offenses. And Florida appears to have the better defense, at least coming into the evening.