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Florida vs. Georgia, Game Thread: Gators look to avoid ignominy on Mike White’s return

Florida’s chances of making a run at the 2023 NCAA Tournament are dwindling. An old friend could help devastate them.

Syndication: Gator Sports Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY NETWORK

Does anyone really need a setup for this one?

The Florida Gators don’t. First-year Georgia head coach Mike White doesn’t. No fan in attendance at the O’Dome on Saturday — especially not the Gators — does.

But throw away all the bad blood that will be angried up for this game, and you get two teams that have legitimate but long-shot NCAA Tournament hopes playing what comes close to an elimination game for Florida and a fraud check for Georgia.

The Gators are probably better-positioned for an unlikely run to March Madness, but they need wins — of quality, and in quantity — in a hurry. A loss to Georgia would drop Florida to 0-3 in SEC play and 7-8 overall, and though there are still ample chances to rally and return to the fringe of postseason consideration, this would be a far deeper hole than the one the Gators were in a year ago under the coach who will return to Gainesville, as that team lost to top-30 KenPom squads Alabama, LSU, and Auburn in its SEC start; this year’s version of Auburn, Texas A&M, and Georgia would be a significantly worse trio of losses.

But there’s a chance — perhaps a good chance — that Georgia could be a tonic for Florida. The Bulldogs’ 11-3 mark has a lot of flab, with eight wins against teams outside KenPom’s top 200, two more against teams outside the top 100, and just one — an impressive handling of Auburn earlier this week — against a top-50 squad. The three losses aren’t horrible — to Wake Forest, an excellent UAB team, and Georgia Tech, all away from Stegeman Coliseum — but the Dawgs’ profile is that of a team that has a long way to go to translate its gaudy record into a good resume for the Selection Committee to peruse.

Florida should have its hands full with Terry Roberts and Kairo Oquendo and will also need to prevent any of a slew of perimeter shooters from getting hot, but Georgia is dependent on Braelen Bridges and little else to do its work up front, and Colin Castleton — even in his current slump — is a better player. Should the Gators get Castleton going, they should win.

But should is a word of hope, not faith.