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Florida vs. Utah State, Game Thread: Can Gators finish non-con gauntlet with a win?

The last true test of the Gators prior to SEC play comes this Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Butler Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators haven’t quite lived up to their lofty perch in preseason rankings, or to expectations that suggested they could be a Final Four-caliber team from the opening tip of this season.

But they’ve acquitted themselves fairly well despite their losses — and they have one last great chance for a marquee win before SEC play this Saturday against Utah State (2:30 p.m., FS1) in Sunrise.

That might sound strange to anyone unfamiliar with college basketball, but Craig Smith’s Aggies are among the nation’s best mid-major programs this year — and their own 11-2 record is a slightly unlucky one, with losses to Saint Mary’s and BYU coming in games without and mostly without big man Neemias Queta, maybe the best player on the roster. Utah State made the 2019 NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed and is poised to return, perhaps with a better seed, this year.

But the Aggies also haven’t quite been the same as they were in the first five games of their year — all comfortable wins, the closest by just eight — over their last eight. Their 6-2 record since has featured two overtime wins and a two-point triumph over LSU.

And this Saturday’s game will be a third in as many different time zones for the Aggies, who lost to BYU in Utah and then went to overtime with South Florida in Houston. If Florida can bottle up Queta, still rounding into form after spending much of the offseason recovering from injury, it will have a chance to score a big win in the Orange Bowl Classic.

But if Utah State shoots well in the notoriously weird BB&T Center or gums up Florida’s offense? We might be back to square one with the soul-searching the Gators have been doing for much of this season’s first two months.