The Florida Gators have done a lot to help themselves over the last fortnight of SEC play.
Holding off Vanderbilt at home? Eh, that wasn’t much. But back-to-back road wins at NCAA Tournament aspirant Alabama and near-lock LSU — which has now gotten wins over both Kentucky and Tennessee this season — are needle-movers for the Gators, who were probably on the bad side of the bubble on Valentine’s Day, and might be on the good side on this Saturday, as they host Missouri (4 p.m., ESPNU or WatchESPN).
But the Gators can’t really afford to falter against the Tigers, and not just because they’re going to be making memories in sweet throwback threads while honoring the 1994 Florida squad that was the first to make the Final Four in program history.
That’s because Missouri, at just 12-13 and 3-10 in SEC play, is one of the few SEC teams that is definitely not making the NCAA Tournament without a miraculous SEC Tournament run, as Cuonzo Martin’s team has struggled in the wake of a Porter brother getting hurt for the second straight year. This season, of course, the Tigers only had Jontay Porter, who helped get Missouri to the NCAA Tournament despite Michael Porter Jr.’s early-season injury — but Jontay, in a cruel twist of fate, tore his ACL just prior to the season starting, leaving Missouri without both halves of a sibling pair that may both play in the NBA.
What remains on the roster hasn’t really amounted to a fully competitive team. Forward Jeremiah Tilmon has been a load down low, and guards Jordan Geist and Mark Smith have hit 54 and 49 threes, respectively — KeVaughn Allen, for reference, is at 51 — but the Tigers turn the ball over a lot without Porter to handle some of the playmaking, and they have a tendency to chuck threes.
Worse, Missouri just isn’t very good on defense, having allowed 15 games of 50 percent effective field goal percentage or better to its opponents and gone 3-12 in those contests. The Tigers are better at guarding the perimeter than the interior, which would seem like a better match against Florida’s guard-oriented attack, but the Gators have been diversifying their offense of late — and they’re due for a good shooting performance at home, where they haven’t made 10 threes yet this month.
Florida getting that performance and routing Missouri today wouldn’t help its NCAA Tournament positioning all that much — but a loss would erode some of the progress made of late. Let’s hope we’re not talking about that in two hours.