There was once a time when Florida meeting Florida Gulf Coast was arguably the most-hyped game of an NCAA Tournament round.
When the Gators and Eagles tip off in Sunrise on this Saturday (5 p.m., Sunshine Network or FS2 or Fox Sports Go), it pits a team deeply unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament against one that is going to have to fight hard for a spot.
Florida is the latter, and the book on the Gators so far this season is well-read, if not well-loved: Mike White has a bunch of young, quick, and long-armed defenders who have formed a formidable defense, but the lack of a clear go-to scorer is just the top of a list of offensive problems that have hamstrung Florida in the half court. Freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard is coming off one of the worst games of his young career, but freshman shooting guard Noah Locke helped the Gators get a win over Mercer on Tuesday by pumping in a career-high 17 points. It would help if those freshmen were helped out a bit more by KeVaughn Allen, who has been customarily quiet in his senior season, and Jalen Hudson, who has barely made a sound.
These Eagles do not appear likely to be a particularly stiff challenge for the Gators, though. They are poor defenders both inside and outside, and while they have been decent from the arc, they also turn the ball over on a fifth of their possessions. To make matters worse, senior leader Haanif Cheatham is now out with shoulder soreness, putting even more of the scoring load on Iona transfer Schadrac Casimir — whose nearly 50 percent clip from distance is somewhat unlikely to continue on the notoriously shooter-unfriendly court at the Orange Bowl Classic.
If Florida can get itself an early Christmas present in the form of a win this evening, it will make for a relatively happy holiday week for the Gators.
But if the Gators struggle — or lose — in this contest, it may make for an uncomfortable meal or two over the next several days.