The Florida Gators haven’t had the season their rosiest expectations suggested might come in 2019-20. They haven’t had a season as bad as those who paint the program as on the brink of collapse would argue, either.
But they have had a season that is thus far bereft of a truly huge win — the sort that stabilizes NCAA Tournament standing and sits well atop a resume.
Auburn has lost just twice since the 2019 SEC Tournament began, with one of those defeats coming in the 2019 Final Four, and the Tigers have made themselves more than the assemblage of talent Bruce Pearl was inevitably going to amass on the Plains. Austin Wiley has finally emerged as a consistent force in his senior season, and the senior backcourt of J’Von McCormick and Samir Doughty has been steady for the SEC’s other orange and blue squad this season, despite neither shooting all that efficiently from distance.
In fact, a year after riding three-pointers (made at a 38.1 percent rate) all the way to the Final Four, Auburn really hasn’t been very good from behind the arc, shooting just 31.6 percent behind the line in 2019-20. The Tigers are good to great at nearly everything else on offense and defense — including ranking 12th nationally in two-point field goal percentage, mostly a testament to Wiley — but don’t shoot threes or free throws well.
And that could be good for the Gators, who have been victimized by hot shooting and don’t avoid fouling especially well. So could getting the Tigers after Alabama lit them up for their first loss of the year, showing an aptitude for driving past Auburn defenders and controlling the game as a result.
Of course, Auburn could also come into this game fired up to avoid a second straight loss and take advantage of Andrew Nembhard’s potentially reduced state, as he’s been dealing with flu-like symptoms this week and had Mike White telling reporters as of Friday that his status was in question.
The Gators’ sophomore point guard will make a go of it in this one. But if he’s not at full health, it could be a really long day in the O’Dome — and even if he is at his best, it might not be enough for Florida to score that elusive first big win of the year.