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Florida vs. California, Game Thread: Gators tip off in Fort Myers against Bears

Florida will break out its black uniforms for what might be a mauling.

NCAA Basketball: Wis.-Milwaukee at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

One of the fun things about the early part of any college basketball season is figuring out which aspects of which teams are legitimate. This afternoon, for example, I was really impressed by the UConn women’s defense — especially in the post — against an excellent South Carolina team, so much so that I tweeted something in the first quarter about the Huskies being “in full control” and their ceiling being higher than anyone else’s.

I think I stand by those observations, actually — but South Carolina won by 16, eventually wearing down the Huskies in the post and imposing their will defensively.

Teams are very much capable of looking great or miserable for short stints or full games early on in the year, and those looks might bear no resemblance to what they become — or what they are even a week later.

In Florida’s case, entering this week’s three games in the Fort Myers Tip-Off, it seems quite possible that the formula is going to be the formula and the level of play might only get higher. Behind a formidable defense keyed by ball pressure and Colin Castleton as a mighty rim protector and an offense that runs through Castleton and divvies up shots if and when he is denied or off the court, Florida has stormed to a 3-0 record in which each win has been more lopsided than the last. The Gators, though, have also been at home three times, and the Florida State team they mashed out in the second half in Gainesville does not yet look as good as many of Leonard Hamilton’s recent squads have been.

In the case of California, Florida’s opponent on this Monday night (FS1 or Fox Sports streaming), the verdict is mixed.

The Bears were bad in their first week, losing to only-just-recently-up-to-Division I UC San Diego and an offensively challenged UNLV team, but have bounced back from those awful results to win their last two games — matchups with San Diego and Southern Utah, neither a team looking like a sure pick to make the 2022 NCAA Tournament. And the Bears’ win over the Thunderbirds required double overtime.

Former Georgia coach Mark Fox has Cal operating at a glacial pace — they average around 65 possessions per game, near the bottom in D-I — and working the clock on offense, but it’s not really clear what else his team does well. Cal made 10 threes against San Diego, but also gave up 10, 10, and nine in its first three games; while it tightened up on defense against Southern Utah, that came alongside its own offensive brownout, save for a 29-point outburst from Andre Kelly, a big man who profiles as the classic load down low.

If Kelly and Jordan Shepherd, a shooter who has really struggled to score inside, play well, and someone else joins them? Maybe Cal gives Florida a run.

But I think Florida’s likely to continue being what we have come to expect the Gators to be, and that should mean a win on this night.