Florida’s game against Oklahoma this Tuesday night is its first in the Jumpman Invitational, which that could become one of the marquee events in college basketball, if Nike and ESPN treat it with the reverence that they could. It’s the Gators’ first game in Charlotte since the program’s first Final Four game, way back in 1994. And it’s their latest meeting against Oklahoma, a program — and school — that has crossed paths with Florida time and again in recent years, and that will be an SEC rival in coming ones.
But most importantly, this is one last chance for the Gators to get a really good win before conference play begins.
Oklahoma comes into this contest as a team that should probably make the 2023 NCAA Tournament, but may end up sweating things out come March. Its best win is over either Seton Hall or Ole Miss from its Thanksgiving-week tournament stay in Orlando, and its worst loss is a buzzer-beater defeat — and, frankly, a collapse from a 43-29 second-half lead — against Sam Houston State in its season opener. Its pair of games against big-name foes, Villanova and Arkansas, both ended in losses for the Sooners.
Oklahoma’s tournament profile is a lot like Florida’s, in other words — and that’s part of what would make this a big win for the Gators to grab.
Florida’s worst loss by opponent, the one to a soaring Florida Atlantic squad that might be one of the year’s best mid-majors, is probably better than Oklahoma’s to the Bearkats; its worst loss by performance, that drubbing by West Virginia, is at least to a decent squad. But Florida doesn’t really have anything quite like those tournament wins Oklahoma nabbed — unless or until Oregon State, now 6-6 after victories over NFC stalwarts Seattle and Green Bay and thus possibly not as bad as its 1-6 stretch with two losses to Portland State suggested, turns into an average power-conference team, or Florida State magically gets healthy — and will eventually need to get them if it is to make this year’s Big Dance.
The problem on this night is that Oklahoma is still in important respects the team that cut Florida to ribbons with back cuts a year ago. Tanner Groves is still around to be ultra-efficient inside and rain some threes; his brother, Jacob, has turned into a strong presence on the front line beside him. Jalen Hill, whose 18 points against Florida last fall were his career high until a 22-point outing earlier this year, is also back, and has developed a knack for getting to the line.
And the most important addition has made Oklahoma better. Grant Sherfield transferring in from Nevada has also given Porter Moser a lead guard who can really score and really, really shoot — he’s made an astonishing 31 of 56 threes.
Between Sherfield doing that from distance and Tanner Groves making about 75 percent of his twos, the Sooners have fashioned one of the best offenses — especially at shooting — in the country, though their defense is not quite as efficient as some of Moser’s best Loyola Chicago teams.
Florida, to be blunt, has struggled with good offenses this year, though it has also seemed to figure out how to use its athleticism and array of wings to overwhelm lesser foes of late. The tricky part, as has been the case all year, is translating what it did against, say, Ohio to a game against Oklahoma.
Or Auburn. Or Tennessee. Or ... you get it.
Forty minutes in Charlotte — especially if the Gators really get up to something in this Jumpman Invitational — could go a long way to restoring confidence that this Florida team won’t always be lost in translation.