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Florida vs. Auburn, Game Thread: Gators seek hearty meal on the Plains

Florida devoured Bruce Pearl’s Tigers last season. Will this year’s meeting be any different?

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators had an up-and-down year in 2015-16, Mike White’s first season in Gainesville. They finished 21-15, and just 9-9 in SEC play.

But they utterly destroyed the Auburn Tigers, 95-63, in the middle of that season. And though both Florida and Auburn are almost inarguably better now, heading into a Valentine’s Day meeting with the Tigers on the Plains (7 p.m., SEC Network or WatchESPN), there’s not a lot of reason to think that the Gators can’t do some heart-breaking on Valentine’s Day.

Auburn is a talented, high-octane team this year, averaging just under 75 possessions per contest (seventh nationally) and keeping its offensive possessions under 15 seconds on average. (The latter stat will be at odds with Florida’s defense, which forces opponents to take more than 18 seconds per possession.) Players like sweet-shooting Mustapha Heron, rugged Danjel Purifoy, and long-limbed, sushi-raw Austin Wileywho took the Scottie Wilbekin route midseason — dot a largely Bruce Pearl-assembled roster a little more into his tenure at the school, and you can squint and see what some idiot thought might be a swift turnaround happening at a rather reasonable pace.

But Auburn’s also painfully young, something that has helped make promising and precocious backhanded compliments for this team. The Tigers knocked off Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and UConn in non-conference play, all away from Auburn, but also managed to lose to a bad Boston College team, and have squandered a fair bit of the value of that non-conference performance since SEC play began. The Tigers are 5-7 in conference, and have lost twice to Ole Miss and once each to Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee, while also taking their prescribed beatdowns to Kentucky (by 20) and South Carolina (by 29).

The Rebels’ most recent win over Auburn came on Saturday, in fact, and it was a massively disappointing loss for the road team. Auburn led by 20 at halftime and by 23 early in the second half, but got outscored 61-32 over the final 18 minutes of play, eventually losing 90-84.

That game was the 11th this year in which Auburn allowed 1.1 points per possession — and the Tigers’ eighth loss in such games.

Florida, meanwhile, rolls into town with on a six-game win streak that has seen its defense hold every foe to under 0.95 points per possession, and its last five opponents to 0.86 or fewer PPP. And while Florida’s offense didn’t crack 1.0 PPP in two wins last week, it’s still at a very healthy 1.16 PPP for the year, and at 1.096 PPP in SEC play.

It’s going to take Auburn solving the unsolvable Gators and Florida not tearing into an defense that hemorrhages offensive rebounds for the Tigers to pull the upset tonight — and I would not choo-choo-choose this as the moment that this Gators win streak will end.