For the Florida Gators, another frustrating regular season of almosts comes to an end this Saturday against LSU. But there’s still something at stake today: Win, and the Gators can all but guarantee they will not end the year with a losing record and also secure a .500 mark in SEC play.
How much value improving to 16-15 and 9-9 in SEC action would really have is somewhat dubious, because Florida could — in theory — still end up with a losing record by tripping in the first game of the SEC Tournament and whatever postseason tournament it makes.
As a point of pride, though, making it to those marks with Colin Castleton out for most of February and the withering schedule the Gators faced is worth something, though how much it would salvage or salve is up for debate.
There’s not all that much pride to earn in beating LSU, after all — nearly every other team in the SEC has, with the Tigers losing to every conference foe except Arkansas and Vanderbilt this winter. And more than two months elapsed between those two wins, with the latter coming after a 14-game losing streak and in the middle of a five-game stretch that still featured losses to SEC stragglers South Carolina, Georgia, and Ole Miss.
In their last game out, the Tigers also managed to blow a 19-point lead on Senior Night and lose to Missouri — despite making an alarming 14 of 28 threes and going 20-for-22 at the free-throw line. 16 turnovers by the Bayou Bengals allowed the (other) old gold Tigers to shoot 14 more shots, and LSU went a pitiful 7-for-21 on twos in its 81-76 loss.
Florida probably can’t play defense well enough inside the arc to induce such a performance, but it can be better on the perimeter, and has already withstood a good day from K.J. Williams, who had 23 points and seven rebounds in LSU’s 67-56 home loss to the Gators back in January. Castleton had 18 points, seven boards, and five blocks in that one, so Florida will need to replace his output, but Will Richard and Riley Kugel combining for just 12 points in that game is a sign that there was some untapped potential on the court.
Florida tapping in and making LSU tap out would be a fine finish to this year.