When the Florida Gators’ SEC schedule for the 2017-18 season was released, its first week looked like maybe the most formidable of all.
The Gators would have to go to preseason SEC favorites Texas A&M and Missouri and contend with both teams’ surfeit of NBA talent, after all.
But in the cold — like, very cold — light of the day in January when the Gators are actually physically in Columbia to see the Tigers (1 p.m., CBS), that formidable task isn’t quite so imposing. Texas A&M is reeling thanks to injuries and suspensions, and Florida just routed the Aggies in College Station, while Missouri is without projected No. 1 NBA Draft pick Michael Porter Jr. thanks to a season-ending injury and has not quite been the powerhouse some thought it could be in Cuonzo Martin’s first year as a result.
That’s not to say Missouri isn’t good, of course: The Tigers are 11-3 and undefeated at home, with their only losses coming at Utah (understandable), on a neutral floor against West Virginia (entirely understandable), and on a neutral floor against Illinois (a little perplexing), and have fashioned themselves into an effective offensive team, if a plodding one. Missouri is 24th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, based largely on shooting just over 41 percent from three and nearly 56 percent on twos, but just 307th in adjusted tempo, preferring to keep games under 70 possessions if possible.
That’s a major point of contrast with the Gators, who have slowed down in recent weeks, but began the year with six games of 70+ possessions in their first seven contests. And Florida’s also significantly better on defense — perhaps surprisingly — thanks to aggressive play that forces turnovers, steals, and blocks.
The best player on the floor on Saturday may well be Missouri’s Jontay Porter, though, and the game’s star could be either of the Tigers’ senior sharpshooters: Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson are both connecting at a clip of at least 43 percent from distance, and have each made more than 30 threes on the year.
Florida will try to match that with their own barrage from distance — and given that the Gators made 17 threes in rinsing Texas A&M, there’s reason to hope their shots have returned after a month or so of cold shooting.
But Florida has a 1-2 record at Missouri since the Tigers’ admission to the SEC, and while an 82-72 win over a bad Missouri outfit was Florida’s only win in its final five SEC games in 2015-16, the Gators took exasperating losses to good (2013) and wretched (2015) Tigers teams in their first two trips to CoMo this decade.