The Florida Gators step onto a court that will bear their most legendary coach’s signature for the first time ever on Saturday night.
For them to step off of it as victors, all they’ll have to do is knock off lowly Vanderbilt (8:00 p.m., SEC Network or WatchESPN), which they already managed to do in Nashville.
Well, it should be, anyway. KenPom gives Florida an 89 percent chance of winning this game, the best figure remaining on its schedule, and the Gators won’t be in danger of giving up the first SEC win in more than a year to the Commodores, thanks to LSU — improbably — taking that fall for the rest of the league a week and a half ago.
And Vandy is still a team well removed from the KenPom top 100 for good reasons, despite showing signs of life around that win over the Tigers. The ‘Dores led Kentucky in the second half at home and away, but faded to lose those games by nine and 14 points. Their late rally against Florida two weeks ago in Nashville only cut a lead that had yawned to as many as 18 points down to a final margin of six — and Florida had its worst shooting percentage inside in a win in that game, while also not making much use of the foul line.
If you’re looking for reasons to believe in Vandy, you should probably actually be looking to lack faith in these Gators — something that their failures to continue winning ways this year gives reasonable foundation for, to be fair. Two of Florida’s three double-digit wins in SEC play prior to Wednesday’s boatracing of Texas A&M were followed immediately by losses, and the Gators’ modest two-game win streak compiled against Vanderbilt and Georgia got snapped on a road trip to Ole Miss.
But there’s also reason to believe that Florida found a winning formula against the Aggies. They got 45 points combined from Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke, sure, and that isn’t sustainable — but they also won big without getting much from Kerry Blackshear (eight points, just two shots) and with a mere six points from their bench. The shooting — 12-for-27 from three — was too hot to expect nightly, but the 15 assists were the most in SEC play, and the unselfishness, balance, and stingy defense are things to reasonably strive for.
Unselfishness, balance, and stingy defense were, of course, hallmarks of Florida’s program in most of the twilight years of the Donovan era, and were among the many things that Mike White has tried to have his Gators emulate. Florida was routinely drilling teams like this Vanderbilt one by 20, 30, or more under Donovan, with mature, veteran teams executing well for 40 minutes.
This team isn’t mature or comprised of veterans, and 40 minutes of any one thing from them has been rare — good or bad, really.
If it does its best impression of those teams with some of their alumni in attendance, and their leader being honored? Everyone’s going home from this one happy.
If not? Well...