Florida's trip to SEC cellar-dweller Missouri (7:30 p.m., SEC Network or WatchESPN) comes in the last week of the regular season, a year and two weeks or so after the Gators last traveled to Columbia to take on what seemed like an overmatched pack of Tigers.
Florida lost that game, though. And those Gators were arguably both better overall and better at that moment than these ones are, on the heels of a four-game losing streak that has all but popped their NCAA Tournament bubble.
Florida's primary issue is defense, sort of: The Gators have allowed at least a point per possession in each of their last three contests, and have allowed at least 1.17 points per trip in each of their last three losses. But it's less defense alone than an inability to play it in harmony with fine offense: The Gators have held SEC opponents under a point per possession while scoring more than a point per possession just four times, and only once — in a home game against lowly Auburn — since January. Loosely, when Florida plays defense, it struggles to score; when Florida struggles to stop the other team, its offense generally makes up for it.
That lack of consistency has meant that the Gators have been dictated to, playing at the other team's style and tempo for much of the last month. They have suffered for it, getting sped up by LSU and slowed down by South Carolina and Alabama. Other things have hurt — the last team to shoot under 35 percent from beyond the arc against Florida was Vanderbilt ... in January — but the Gators' inability to impose their will has been integral to their collapse.
Fortunately, in theory, Missouri is even more feeble. The Tigers are 10-20 and 3-14 in SEC play, with nine- and four-game losing streaks. Crafty post scorer Ryan Rosburg is coach Kim Anderson's most efficient scorer, but he takes a back seat to a slew of inefficient guards who do much of their damage at the free-throw line, the only place where Missouri's offense is consistently even above average. The only team Florida has seen this year with a poorer Effective Field Goal Percentage than the one Missouri sports is North Carolina A&T — which the Gators chomped by 50 points way back in November.
That was in the O'Connell Center, and when Florida's season had promise and hope to buoy it rather than frustration and fear to freight and fray it. But that's the sort of team the Gators see tonight: A bad one.
Florida has to win this game and probably at least a couple more in the SEC Tournament to assure itself a shot at the NCAA Tournament; it will only be affirmatively safe if it hoists a title in Nashville. But if the Gators can't win this game, there's no reason to expect they'll win another until the fall.