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Florida vs. Alabama, Game Thread: Gators look to corral Collin Sexton

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Alabama is more than its freshman star. But he fuels the Crimson Tide.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators have had an up-and-down season on the basketball court. And they have made a habit of playing up and down to their competition, at least to some degree.

Against future NBA player Collin Sexton and the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN), the Gators might want to try up rather than down.

Sexton, projected as a possible top-10 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by various observers, has carried the Crimson Tide through their own topsy-turvy 2017-18 campaign, regularly playing more than 30 minutes a night and putting up two 30-point outings on the year. (One was a 40-point outburst in Alabama’s infamous 3-on-5 finish against Minnesota, though — about as outlier as an outlier can be.)

Sexton averages about 19 points a night, and is joined in the double-figure scoring average club by sharpshooter John Petty, fellow physical wing Dazon Ingram, and block patroller Donta Hall, one of the nation’s best shot-blockers.

Sexton and Ingram would like to get many of their points inside and on the line, where both have shot over 130 free throws on the season; Petty prefers to line up threes, and his 160 attempts from distance on the year are just four fewer than Alabama’s next three most prolific shooters have attempted combined. Hall, meanwhile, just wants to bludgeon foes down low, where he has converted at a nearly 73 percent rate, among the nation’s best marks.

And if that sounds like a bad matchup against Florida’s sometimes porous defense against drivers, often lackadaisical defense against shooters, and undermanned frontcourt, that’s because it really is. But that constellation of talent still hasn’t congealed into a good offense for the Tide, thanks largely to poor shooting from three and the free throw line.

And Alabama has also struggled on the road — its lone road win came at LSU, not destined for NCAA Tournament play — and sandwiched a good win over Oklahoma last weekend with baffling losses at Ole Miss and home to Missouri. And while that inconsistency sure sounds familiar to Florida fans, the Gators also haven’t lost two straight since December, when their three straight losses to Duke, Florida State, and Loyola of Chicago marked this team’s nadir.

If Florida can keep Sexton and/or Petty in check, I like Florida’s chances of getting back to winning ways today.