The Florida Gators look on paper like they might be set to go streaking in SEC play, now that they have a 1-0 record in league competition after a stirring rally to down Alabama at home. Their next three games are against South Carolina, Missouri, and Ole Miss, not exactly the top end of the conference.
Yet all three of those teams could pose problems for Florida — and South Carolina has been a perpetual thorn in the Gators’ hides over the last several years.
Last year’s SEC opener? The Gamecocks nipped the Gators in a two-point game in the O’Connell Center that was decided by a full-court heave to Chris Silva (and an uncalled offensive foul that got him open). The year before? Wesley Myers hit five of Carolina’s 11 threes to win in Gainesville. Before that? Another January win, and then one in the Elite Eight in March. Mike White’s first season? An overtime loss in Columbia that started an 0-4 stretch for the Gators that essentially consigned them to NIT play.
Billy Donovan’s last season, in 2014-15, was the last year in which Florida didn’t fall to South Carolina ... and even that campaign only yielded a 72-68 win for the Gators.
Despite what things look like on paper, this Carolina team — which downed Virginia earlier this year — is likely to give Florida fits, based on nothing more than history.
That said, its own history this season makes Frank Martin’s bunch one of the few teams Florida will face with what it can be sure is a superior offense. Florida “can’t shoot”; Carolina can’t shoot, carrying a miserable 28.6 percent rate on threes into this contest. And for a team that loves to play physical defense and fouls a lot, it’s also terrible at the line, making just about 60 percent of its free throws.
If Florida can make a few shots of its own and limit the tandem of A.J. Lawson and Maik Kotsar, who team to do much of Carolina’s damage in the paint, it should have a fairly comfortable win on its hands.
But if not? This one could get added to the recent memories of misery.