The good news is that Florida probably could win its matchup with Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday, if things break right and the pigs that fly around the barn that is the Wildcats’ cavernous cathedral of hoops end up desecrating John Calipari to the point that he coaches the game the exact wrong way.
The bad news is that sort of outlandish scenario seems like the only way these Gators are going to have much of a chance against one of the better Kentucky teams of recent memory — and one that is a uniquely poor matchup for Florida.
The Wildcats have overcome some early-season struggles — most notably a bizarre loss to Notre Dame — and improved to become one of the nation’s elite teams. They do just about everything but shoot threes in quantity, but their athleticism and midrange prowess has more than compensated for that, as guards Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington slash away and finish well and Keion Brooks follows suit from the wing. (A small mercy for Florida: Jacob Toppin, perhaps the best of Kentucky’s slashing finishers, is not expected to play.)
And then there’s Oscar Tshiebwe, a hurricane inside who pounds post players and acquires rebounds like loose change. He leads the KenPom national player of the year rankings at the present moment because he’s by far the nation’s best rebounder, pulling down 36 percent of defensive boards and 19.1 percent of offensive rebounds available, and he’s a fine defender and scorer despite not being a towering or explosive leaping presence.
While he hasn’t approached the 30- and 29-point performances he had back-to-back in January, Tshiebwe also hasn’t fouled out of a game this year, and is going to be a problem for Florida’s frontcourt of Colin Castleton and really no one else all day.
How to beat Kentucky? At this point, it’s unclear. Apart from that stinker against Notre Dame, the ‘Cats’ other three losses are to Duke in Madison Square Garden, to a full-strength LSU team in Baton Rouge, and to Auburn at Auburn — and the latter required Washington and Wheeler to be dinged up.
Maybe Florida shoots the lights out in Rupp somehow. Maybe Castleton has the greatest game of his basketball life. Maybe the Gators throw enough junk defense at Kentucky to force the reluctant shooters on the floor — so everyone but sharpshooter Kellan Grady and Washington, really — to bomb away from distance rather than getting the shots they want.
Maybe those pigs really will flutter around the Rupp rafters.
But while Florida has been game and good in its showdowns to date, Kentucky just looks like too tall a task to conquer without a miracle.