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Florida vs. FSU, Game Thread: Can Gators contain explosive Seminoles?

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A familiar story on a different field of play in Tallahassee.

NCAA Basketball: Belmont at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We’re just two weeks removed from a talented Florida defense and a limited Florida offense trekking up to Tallahassee to take on a group of Seminoles with some spectacular offensive talents and significant defensive deficiencies.

And we’re doing it again this Sunday, as the Gators see the ‘Noles on the hardwood (4 p.m., ESPNU or WatchESPN).

Florida’s defense is very good, ranking No. 9 nationally in defensive efficiency. Florida State’s offense is quite good, too, sitting at No. 21 in offensive efficiency and No. 7 in points per game, thanks to a blistering tempo — just over 73 possessions per game — and blowouts of several overmatched teams.

But the schedule has plenty to do with that. In six games against teams from what were one-bid conferences in 2016, FSU has put up an alarming 603 points — more than 100 per game. In four games against teams from multi-bid conferences, that number is dramatically lower — just 300 points, an average of 75 points per game.

KenPom rates the Seminoles’ strength of schedule to date No. 287 in the country. Florida’s is No. 15, and even though the Gators have played just as many game against teams from multi-bid leagues, they also saw Gonzaga, the big dog of the perennially one-bid West Coast Conference, and a number of other very good mid-majors.

To put these teams’ scheduling in even sharper contrast: Florida’s played four games against teams rated higher in KenPom than FSU’s best opponent to date, Minnesota — and it played all of those games away from home, while the Seminoles hosted the Golden Gophers.

That’s not to say that the 9-1 ‘Noles are a pushover. They’ll be the third-best team in efficiency margin that Florida’s seen this year, behind Duke and Gonzaga and one spot ahead of Miami, and only Duke has unequivocally had more talent.

Jonathan Isaac is the showiest of those talented FSU players, and is a projected top-10 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft because of a frame and a game that recall Kevin Durant. A gangly 6’10” player who can shoot and dribble at least adequately will always draw those comparisons, but Isaac’s drained 44 percent of his threes and 68 percent of his twos, and is also grabbing rebounds and being disruptive defensively. He’s returning to action after three games spent sidelined with a hip injury, and will assuredly be Florida’s toughest matchup today.

But Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes are tough covers, too, and each has stepped up with more options around him this season. Those options aren’t even bad: JUCO transfer P.J. Savoy has made 15 threes (more than half of his 29 attempts) in just four games this year, Trent Forrest was a top-70 recruit, and Michael Ojo, in his 53rd year in Tallahassee, is typically efficient near the bucket.

Florida will have to do a whole lot of switching to handle FSU, to be sure, but Florida’s also got the best defense that the Seminoles have seen this year, and Florida’s offense being rather good — on a per-possession basis, if not stylistically, or in terms of total points scored — makes the comparison of this matchup to the one seen on the gridiron more of a contrast.

The FSU defense is also just fine, not excellent, despite the Seminoles’ great talents. Their best three performances came over their last three games, with Isaac out, and had a lot to do with those teams, all shooting 33.5 percent or worse from three on the year, significantly underperforming even their unremarkable rates.

If Florida is going to win this game, it will probably be by forcing turnovers and generating offense from them, or by upping its offensive efficiency — either with threes or with more makes from John Egbunu, most likely. The Gators are better-equipped to win a game 75-70 than 90-85, and if the Seminoles can impose their tempo before what should be a loud home crowd, they will have a great shot at winning their third straight game in the series.

Of course, Florida’s gotten used to indifferent-to-hostile crowds this year. And the Gators want to bring that nascent winning streak to an end just as badly as FSU wants to keep it growing.