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Florida vs. Milwaukee, Game Thread: Want to win the lottery?

Coming off one of their biggest wins in recent memory, the Gators welcome a rare talent to the O’Dome.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Florida’s season changed in non-conference play when Keyontae Johnson — the program’s first prospective NBA Draft lottery selection in almost a decade — collapsed during a game against Florida State and its future lottery selection, Scottie Barnes. While the details of the rest of that game are insignificant to most Gators, Barnes rampaging in the second half — to include some celebrations that were, uh, maybe tonally dissonant given the gravity of the moment? — was a large part of why FSU won.

Fast forward a year, and Florida now counts Johnson as “Coach Key,” but also dominated an FSU roster that finally seems like it does not have an immediate lottery prospect on it for much of the second half of its own lopsided win in the rivalry. But the week in which the Gators saw FSU will still feature a likely lottery pick, thanks to Thursday night’s game against Milwaukee — and Patrick Baldwin.

Baldwin shocked many when he opted to follow his father, Patrick Baldwin Sr., to Milwaukee, choosing the Panthers over Arizona State, Duke, Florida, and other schools, and joined what still remains a fairly short list of players who have followed coaching parents or family members into Division I basketball.

Both Baldwins also have a difficult task before them at Milwaukee, which the elder Baldwin, current Butler coach LaVall Jordan, and Wisconsin lifer Rob Jeter have combined to lead to just five 20-win season since Bruce Pearl left the school for Tennessee after the 2005 season. Jeter’s first team in 2005-06 is the only Milwaukee squad since Pearl’s tenure to win more than 21 games; it upset Oklahoma in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, but met its end at the hands of the Florida team that would go on to win the program’s first title in an 82-60 drubbing that wasn’t even that close.

15 years later, Milwaukee hasn’t had a winning record overall or in conference play since Jeter’s last team in 2015-16, with Baldwin coming within two games of .500 just twice in five tries. Last year’s edition started 5-2, then nose-dived to 7-11 before a three-game winning streak to conclude conference play and open the Horizon League Tournament provided a glimmer of hope that was snuffed out by Cleveland State — Florida guard Tyree Appleby’s first school. And while those Panthers took care of the ball, they did little else well.

The hope is, obviously, that Baldwin can change things. A rangy small forward with an excellent shot and measurables that make him the sort of switchable wing every basketball coach craves, he is all but assured of going to the NBA after one year playing for his father, and he could elevate the Panthers along the way.

The problem is that he’s not exactly dominant yet, with his 20 points per game over Milwaukee’s 1-1 start coming on awful 4-for-16 shooting from deep and with 2.5 turnovers per contest. He’s had double-doubles in each game, so he’s plenty active, but Baldwin — who turns 19 today — is probably going to need to be much better if Milwaukee is going to take down Florida, even though he, Vin Baker Jr. — yes, son of the long-time Buck — and Moses Bol — yes, kin to Manute and Bol — have helped to make the Panthers’ interior defense notably stingy.

Florida is probably too deep, too talented, and too tough to let the Baldwins come in and steal a win. But for safety’s sake, they should probably try to keep the future NBA star from getting too hot from distance,