Two years ago, when Florida beat Kentucky three times, it was a historically dominant SEC team taking down a team that would still go on to play for the national championship. A year ago, when Kentucky returned the favor, it was what looked like one of the greatest teams in college basketball history beating up on a team that would fail to reach postseason play.
In 2016, the two titans of the SEC aren't looking quite so mighty — which could produce a far more compelling trilogy, beginning with Saturday's meeting in Rupp Arena (4 p.m., CBS or CBS Sports Live).
Kentucky is 16-6, and on a two-game losing streak thanks to an overtime loss at Kansas in an instant classic and a collapse at Tennessee. The bizarre ability to play one of the nation's best teams to a regulation tie, then fall at a team not in line to make the NCAA Tournament, is very much in keeping with the 2015-16 Wildcats, who might be John Calipari's most erratic bunch since he arrived in Lexington.
Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress, seemingly playing his 19th season of college basketball — are the glue for Big Blue, with Ulis scoring via the foul line and creating and Poythress teaming with Marcus Lee as an imposing and efficient front line for the 'Cats. From there, things get dicey: Derek Willis is an effective inside-out tool for Calipari, but Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have been inefficient scorers, and Briscoe has been a woeful shooter. Three-point shooting's been a problem for every Wildcat except Willis (40.3 percent) and Murray (36.5 percent), with Ulis hitting only 30.6 percent of his threes, and the 'Cats actually shoot worse from beyond the arc than Florida (32.7 percent to 32.0 percent) despite the Gators' forgettable early-season run of futility.
The 'Cats still bang inside and hoard offensive rebounds, but this isn't nearly as proficient a team defensively as one with Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl Towns roaming the interior was, to no surprise, and while Lee, Poythress, and talented but raw freshman Skal Labissiere all help guard the tin, all three are exceedingly foul-prone.
That all adds up to a team that has beaten Duke and Louisville, but lost to Ohio State and Auburn — and so Florida has a shot to take down Kentucky, too, even though the Wildcats have defended their basketball fortress beautifully this year, only twice letting home games finish within single digits.
The Gators' best chance of pulling this upset would seem to lie in making threes to force Kentucky to unpack the paint, and making free throws to punish the foul-happy Wildcats. That puts the pressure on Florida's guards, and especially on Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen, who can both shoot the Gators into or out of games.
If both come out blazing in Florida's snazzy new orange uniforms watch out.