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Florida vs. South Carolina, Game Thread: Gators open SEC play with Gamecocks

The Gators begin conference action with a South Carolina team far removed from recent greatness.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Oklahoma vs Florida Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Three years ago — really, it was just three years ago — Florida and South Carolina met in the Elite Eight, with the Gamecocks prevailing to earn passage to the Final Four.

The teams that meet this Saturday night in the O’Connell Center (7 p.m., ESPN or WatchESPN) bear very little resemblance to those ones.

Sure, the Gators still have KeVaughn Allen and Kevarrius Hayes, and the Gamecocks still have Chris Silva. But Florida is also still poised to make noise in SEC play after an uneven non-conference campaign that ended with the Gators playing some inspired ball.

South Carolina might end up playing for Frank Martin’s job by year’s end.

The Gators are 9-4 entering this weekend, with a rout of Butler last Saturday representing their high-water mark this year. In that game, for the first time, Florida married high-level defensive execution with great offensive efficiency, and ran over a Bulldogs team that frustrated it to no end in the Battle 4 Atlantis a month earlier.

South Carolina is 5-7, with its best win coming against ... Coastal Carolina, I guess? The Gamecocks did play Michigan fairly tough, but have lost just one of those seven games by fewer than nine points, and do not have a good win yet.

That could perhaps be attributed to some atrocious shooting by Martin’s team, which has made just barely 30 percent of its threes and under 48 percent of its twos this year. Apart from a strangely great shooting day against Michigan, South Carolina has really not made shots against a good defense in any of its losses, and Florida has a defense that does not cede many good shots.

Of course, there is still Silva, who has become an even more powerful force down low this year. But outside of him, the Gamecocks are not a scary outfit, and Florida should be in the business of plucking feathers on this night.

If the Gators can’t do that, they may have a rougher time in SEC play than we think.