Just hours after hiring their next football coach, the Florida Gators are — on the other coast of the country — taking on the No. 1 college basketball team in the nation.
Some day this Sunday is, huh?
The Gators’ prize for wins in the first two rounds of Nike’s uber-prestigious PK80 Invitational — a rout of Stanford and an exhilarating triumph over Gonzaga — is a date with Duke, still the preeminent program in all of college basketball, and the 2017-18 season’s preseason and early-season No. 1 team.
The Blue Devils haven’t quite played like that this year, though, and that’s been especially true in Portland. Duke trailed Portland State at the half in its first game before rallying to win by 18, and had to rally again to go to overtime with and then prevail over Texas in its second. Duke shooters are a combined 7-for-36 from deep in PK80 play, too, and the Blue Devils just aren’t playing great defense as of yet, allowing both PK80 foes to net more than a point per possession.
That same criticism could be leveled at Florida, though, given that the Gators have given up more than 1.1 points per possession in two games — and that their struggles have largely been on the interior, where Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III dwells. Bagley has been a monstrous presence for Duke so far this year, inhaling rebounds and punishing defenders. Paired with Wendell Carter up front, Bagley has made Duke the nation’s best team on the offensive glass, where the Blue Devils capture nearly 45 percent of their misses.
With those two glass-eaters inside and Grayson Allen on the roster, it’s easy to understand why Duke was and is a favorite to cut nets in April.
However: The way Florida has played — and shot — in Portland has been convincing evidence that the Gators might figure into that mix.
The Gators have made 32 of their 58 threes in the PK80, with Egor Koulechov going 5-for-5 against Stanford and Jalen Hudson sinking eight of 12 threes against Gonzaga. Chris Chiozza, who will play through a bruised rib on Sunday night, has been a masterful floor general thus far this year. KeVaughn Allen, Florida’s most reliable scorer in years past, hasn’t been all that good — and he hasn’t even needed to be.
Duke is Florida’s biggest test of the year, yes — and so is Florida Duke’s. This should be a great game.
It’s a shame we’ll have to stay up after midnight to see the second half, but so be it. It’s worth it to watch greatness.