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Florida vs. Ohio State, Game Thread: Gators meet Buckeyes with perfection on line

Florida’s hot start runs into a program it has historically had success against.

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

The Florida Gators men’s basketball team needs only a win over an unranked Ohio State on Wednesday night (8:30 p.m., FS1 or Fox Sports streaming) to move to 5-0 on the young 2021 season, something that can’t seem too daunting to fans who remember the Gators’ ownership of Ohio State over the years.

Overlooking this Ohio State team would be a mistake, however.

Powered by versatile forward E.J. Liddell, the Buckeyes have been up and down in the early goings of this season, falling to Xavier and nearly dropping a home context with lowly Akron, but they are coming off a strong showing against Seton Hall on Monday to get to this championship game of the Fort Myers Tip-Off. Liddell had 28 points, six rebounds, and three blocks in that game, and Meechie Johnson hit a game-winning three with seconds remaining in the 79-76 win over the Pirates.

Liddell is off to a fantastic start this fall, ranking as KenPom’s No. 1 individual player thanks to his efficiency scoring both inside and outside and some superb rim protection. Liddell’s block percentage of 13.5 percent is 26th nationally, and he has been effective at both sinking shots and getting to the line.

But if that sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because it’s not far removed from the profile of Colin Castleton, who enters Wednesday’s game as KenPom’s No. 4 player. The Michigan transfer’s upped his game from what was an impressive debut with Florida, adding significant improvements as a rebounder and playmaker to his own rim protection and dogged paint work, and if he continues to flash the jumper he’s been bringing out at opportune moments, he’ll be incredibly hard to guard.

Florida has a challenge to meet in Liddell, but also in Chris Holtmann’s team as a whole, which patiently waits for good shots and does not get sped up as a rule. But the Gators have also been able to dictate tempo and disrupt patience so far, and if they can do that again, another win may be on their horizon.