If the Florida Gators men’s basketball program is going to make the 2023 NCAA Tournament, it will be through accruing a bunch of wins in a row down the stretch of an SEC schedule that lightens up in mid- and late February.
Of course, the Gators couldn’t get one such win last Saturday against middling but rising Vanderbilt. But the good news is that this Wednesday brings Ole Miss to Gainesville — and Ole Miss might be just the second legitimately bad team the Gators have seen in conference play.
The Rebels are just 2-10 in the SEC, a half-game better than the South Carolina team they beat for one of their two conference wins — Georgia without Terry Roberts provided the other — and are the rare Division 1 team more challenged by the basic action of shooting a basketball than Florida. While the Gators are shooting just 31.4 percent from three, Ole Miss is at an arctic 29.5 percent, and within 20 spots of dead last in D-1.
It would be fair to pin a lot of that on Matthew Murrell’s shooting regressing — after making 39 percent of his threes a year ago, he’s at 29 percent this season — and some on Jaemyn Brakefield being Kermit Davis’s only decent shooter (37 percent — but on half of Murrell’s attempts) this year.
But the truth is that Ole Miss had its fate largely set by Jarkel Joiner and Luis Rodriguez entering the transfer portal after last season: Joiner, a scorer who topped scouting reports, is now at NC State, and Rodriguez headed to UNLV, leaving the Rebels to base an offense around Murrell, Brakefield, and big man Nysier Brooks, a Miami transfer.
That has been, in a word, difficult. Shockingly, Brooks doesn’t get a ton of room to operate inside on the many cold shooting nights Ole Miss endures, and the Murrell-Brakefield combo is a pair of complementary pieces not quite doing more.
Florida’s got a better roster and a clearer star in Colin Castleton. It should have enough to beat these Rebels.
But it should have had enough to beat Vandy, too.