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Florida vs. Ole Miss, Game Thread: Short-handed Gators look for road success

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Florida’s struggled away from home this season. Missing two key contributors may make not doing so even more challenging.

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

The bad news first: In their rescheduled-by-COVID game against Ole Miss on Monday night (7 p.m., streaming via the SEC Network), the Florida Gators men’s basketball team will be without not just Colin Castleton, out due to a left shoulder injury, but without C.J. Felder, who will miss the game with a non-COVID illness.

That makes getting a win over the Rebels in Oxford a little bit harder, no question.

But the good news is that the Gators aren’t exactly running into a juggernaut.

Ole Miss is 1-5 in SEC play, and its only win came over Mississippi State in a game in which the Rebels made 11 of 23 threes and 53 percent of their twos; when not so hot, they have lost to Western Kentucky, Florida transfer Ques Glover-led Samford, and Missouri — by 25 — this season. Kermit Davis’s bunch has beaten Memphis and Dayton, too, but it is no threat to make the 2022 NCAA Tournament, and probably won’t finish in the top 100 of KenPom.

All that makes a loss to the Rebels something the Gators need to avoid, despite their depletion — but also something that they should be able to avert.

Key to that will probably be keeping the Rebels’ bombers — five Ole Miss players have made 19 or more threes on the year, with another at 13 — in check, because there’s just not a lot else that scares about their offense. And if Florida can sink some threes of its own against a defense that’s fairly good at both preventing and defending threes, it should have the offensive juice to win.

But keeping Jason Jitoboh and/or Anthony Duruji out of foul trouble will be important, and moving the ball to get better shots against a Rebels defense that has been permissive inside will probably be the optimal offense for the Gators. And that runs slightly counter to their tendencies, though they have been quite good at picking shots without Castleton to vacuum up an enormous percentage of attempts.

This won’t be easy — but Florida should have enough to pull out a close game.