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Florida vs. Georgia, Game Thread: Gators open SEC play by hosting Dawgs

For Florida, tonight's key to success may be staying off the line.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida's 2015-16 non-conference schedule is all but done, with Tuesday's loss to Florida State leaving the Gators with an 8-4 mark and just a one-off game against West Virginia at the end of January remaining. The Gators now turn to SEC play, which they open Saturday night with a game against Georgia in the O'Connell Center (8 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU or WatchESPN).

For the second straight game, Florida faces a team that looks a lot like itself. Mark Fox's Bulldogs have struggled on offense (No. 116 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom) and been far saltier on defense (No. 33 in adjusted defensive efficiency), and only Oakland and former Florida assistant Matt McCall's Chattanooga (in an overtime game) have scored 70 points on Georgia this year, with both teams requiring more than 70 possessions to do so.

The Dawgs do a fine job of slowing down the pace on offense (ranking 318th nationally in average possession length) and getting to the line. Georgia ranks seventh nationally in percentage of points from free throws, netting more than a quarter of their scoring at the line, and Charles Mann is especially efficient in that regard, drawing more than seven fouls per 40 minutes and possessing an astronomical 102.9 Free Throw Rate. If Florida can defend without fouling, it will go a long way to shutting down Georgia.

On defense, Georgia would probably most prefer funneling things toward elite shot-blocker Yante Maten in the half court. But Maten's not the only Dawg who can swat shots: A full seven Georgia players block shots on more than three percent of their defensive possessions, and the team as a whole is fifth in block percentage, recording them on 16.5 percent of defensive possessions.

That's a potential headache for Florida, which has seen Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza get many of their shots altered, and which is so abysmal from the free throw line that gambling for blocks and fouling shooters is not a terrible decision. And despite KeVaughn Allen finding his range against FSU in his 32-point breakout, the Gators fell further in terms of team three-point percentage, now ranking 342nd of 351 Division I teams in the category and sinking less than 28 percent of their shots.

In my pre-Alligator Army days, I raged when Kenny Boynton made just 29.4 percent of his threes as a freshman despite taking 245 of them. Florida is shooting a worse percentage from three this season, and yet the Gators still spend more than a third of their field goals on treys.

But Florida's defense remains elite even after FSU's Dwayne Bacon cooked it, falling only from No. 2 to No. 5 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and the Gators have John Egbunu and Dorian Finney-Smith to challenge Georgia's front line, which has no players taller than 6'9". If the Gators can feed off what could be a good crowd — if Gainesville's first "wintry" day of the season doesn't scare fans off — they will have every opportunity to win this game, and start SEC play 1-0.