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Florida vs. Mercer, Game Thread: Gators hope to hold serve

This is the sort of game that Florida just cannot lose.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So far in this 2018-19 season, the Florida Gators have yet to do much to build an NCAA Tournament resume.

But they also have done little that would reflect poorly on such a sheet. And it is the combination of both of those factors that makes soundly beating teams like Mercer — the team that comes to Gainesville this Tuesday night (8 p.m., SEC Network or WatchESPN) — as vital as it is.

Florida has dropped games to Florida State, Oklahoma, Butler, and Michigan State — four teams that look like NCAA Tournament outfits, with the Seminoles and Spartans standing out as Final Four contenders. But Florida has only one arguably important win, a neutral-site triumph over West Virginia; its other victories will not sway the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee come March.

A team can compensate for a dearth of good wins with a dearth of bad losses, though, and Florida has been adept at avoiding those so far. The closest a team not named West Virginia has come to these Gators this year is 13 points — and even that margin, in an 82-69 win over La Salle, is deceptively close.

Mercer does not profile as a team that can change that run of success. The Bears come into this game at 4-6, with just one win over a KenPom top-300 team — and that team is ranked No. 297 as of this Tuesday. Bob Hoffman does not have one of his better teams this year, and Florida should roll on this evening.

And if Florida does? No big deal.

But if Florida fails to do that? The Gators should start to feel very worried about their NCAA Tournament hopes.