Florida welcomes Mississippi to the O'Connell Center for the first time since 2013 on Thursday night (7 p.m., ESPN), but it's the second game between the two teams this season. In the first meeting, on January 24, Michael Frazier II's season-high 27 points weren't enough to lift the Gators, who fell by a 72-71 count in a game decided in the final seconds.
And tonight, Florida won't even have Frazier.
After sustaining an ankle injury against Kentucky that sidelined him for most of the second half of that contest, Frazier is out tonight, and maybe for a couple of weeks. Without him, and his team-leading 13.2 points per game, the Gators might struggle even more to score than they usually do.
Despite being without him, the Gators actually did just fine on offense in the second half against Kentucky last Saturday: After 10 points from Frazier helped the Gators score 1.00 points per possession (PPP) in the first half against the Wildcats, they got none from him in brief attempts to play on his gimpy ankle in the second half ... and still scored exactly 1.00 PPP.
The problem then was foul-happy defense, which sent Kentucky to the line 22 times; the Wildcats punched well above their weight in making 21 free throws, but Florida's simply not good enough to win many games if its opponents can pick up 15-20 points at the line.
Mississippi, after all, is a lot better than Kentucky at the line — second nationally in free throw percentage — and beat Florida by a point thanks in part to 16 points (of a possible 19) in charity stripe donations in Oxford. And that was with just two contributions from Stefan Moody, a 90 percent free throw shooter that Florida harassed throughout that game.
Apart from that efficiency at the line and an aversion to turnovers, there's not much that's special about this Andy Kennedy team, with most other components of their play rating more or less as solid for a high-major program. But that formula has helped the Rebels win five straight games, and helped them scare Kentucky at Rupp Arena, and already worked for them once against the Gators, who made 12 of their 20 threes and still managed to lose that game.
And it's a lot harder to find anything special about Florida right now — especially without Frazier, whose absence will mean more playing time for Chris Chiozza and a bit less versatility for the Gators on defense.
Billy Donovan is two wins from 500 in his career, and had Florida beaten Vanderbilt last week, the Gators would be gunning for that milestone tonight.
Instead, if Florida loses tonight, it will be at .500 — and for the first time after January in a season since Donovan's first year in Gainesville.