There are seemingly no easy outs in the 2018-19 SEC, at least on the men’s side.
But the Florida Gators welcome the closest thing to it to Gainesville on this Tuesday night (8:30 p.m., SEC Network or WatchESPN), as listing Texas A&M comes to the O’Dome.
The Aggies are just 1-4 in conference play, after all, good for a three-way tie for next-to-last in the league. And Billy Kennedy’s bunch would be tied for last with winless Vanderbilt if not for an 81-80 road win at Alabama that featured the game of forward Josh Nebo’s career.
A&M doesn’t shoot it well at all, especially from three — the Aggies are making just under 28 percent of their threes, a tragic number, and none of Wendell Mitchell, Savion Flagg, or T.J. Starks is shooting even 33 percent individually — and doesn’t have that good a defense, though Nebo is an elite shot-blocker and rim protector. The last team the Aggies held under a point per possession was Marshall, in late December; in SEC play, they’re being outscored by about .15 points per trip.
And that is with the best custodianship of the ball in the league, something that might well not stand up to the withering Florida ball pressure that has Mike White’s Gators up to second nationally in defensive turnover percentage.
All three of A&M’s previous three meetings with KenPom top-25 teams have resulted in double-digit losses, welts for a young team figuring out life without Tyler Davis and Robert Williams to wear. And Florida would seem to be poised to deliver a fourth such defeat.
But the Gators, too, are a young outfit, and one figuring things out on the fly as injuries — the season-ender to Keith Stone, yes, but also the ones that have robbed this team of a fully-fledged Isaiah Stokes and any contributions at all from Gorjok Gak — and inefficacy by certain presumptive scorers have led White to rely heavily on a freshman class that now comprises three-fifths of Florida’s starting lineup.
Maybe Andrew Nembhard will have both his shot and his playmaking on this night, and Noah Locke will be hot, and Keyontae Johnson will continue a rapid maturation into a starter-quality player. Or maybe they will be freshmen, and struggle with the difficult task of consistently churning out play and plays like they did to help Florida rally past Georgia last Saturday, and seniors KeVaughn Allen and Kevarrius Hayes won’t be able to do enough to rescue the youth movement.
Games like these against teams like Texas A&M should be Florida’s chances to figure things out. With a small margin for error and bigger shadows on the horizon, though, these games still count as something close to must-wins for the Gators, should they want to make the NCAA Tournament.
We shall see whether they will do what they must to win on this evening.