Chances to score a big win and add some appealing bullet points to their NCAA Tournament resume are running low for the Florida Gators men’s basketball team. After hanging with Kentucky for a half but fading badly without Tyree Appleby in a 78-57 loss last Saturday, they now get probably their best chance at a big road win for the rest of the season — but might not have Appleby, or anything close to his best version, for it.
That’s the setup for Tuesday night’s visit to Texas A&M, where the Aggies have been reeling but still represent a possible Quadrant I or II — more likely the second — win for Florida to claim. Now 15-10 and 4-8 in SEC play after an eight-game losing streak, the Aggies last won a game exactly a month ago, needing a late charge at Missouri to get it.
Since then? Some game efforts in a Kentucky visit to Reed Arena and trips to Arkansas and LSU, but also bad losses to South Carolina and Missouri and torchings at Tennessee and Auburn. Buzz Williams’s bunch has been especially poor defensively, giving up at least a point per possession in each of its last six games after doing so six times in its first 19 contests this year.
Of course, Florida’s coming off a rout in which Kentucky — mostly Oscar Tshiebwe, obviously — hammered it on the offensive glass, prolonged so many possessions, and coughed up so few turnovers that its 78 points came on just 59 actual trips. So the Gators’ defense isn’t exactly hale right now — and neither is Appleby, who re-aggravated a hamstring injury early against the Wildcats and played sparingly in the game.
To their credit, the Gators didn’t immediately turn into a turnover-prone mess without their lone reliable creator, committing just 10 turnovers on the day. But without Appleby, their offense grew stagnant, and the threes that buoyed them early bricked — as they often do with this team — by game’s end, a two-shot streak from the newly red-hot Myreon Jones (16-for-26 from three in his last four games) excepted.
And Appleby seems like Florida’s best bet to navigate the A&M defense, which brings pressure with traps and quick defenders and sacrifices plenty of other fundamentals to do so. If he can play and give his usual dynamic driving, this is a winnable game for the Gators even without a flurry of threes.
If he can’t do that, Florida is probably going to be clawing for its result all night — and might need a surprise star performance to get it.