Game of the Week: No. 3 Florida vs. No. 14 Kentucky
An SEC battle is set to take place Saturday, as the third-ranked Florida Gators travel to Kentucky to face off against John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. This will be the first of two matchups between the squads, as Kentucky will take a trip to Gainesville, for the last regular-season game of the season for both clubs.
Billy Donovan’s crew has had a stellar season, rattling off a winning streak of 15 straight, including wins over Kansas and Memphis. Florida is among the top five teams in the nation in both RPI (5th) and BPI (4th). At 22-2, the Gators are sitting pretty and looking for more quality wins to secure a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky, meanwhile, has the tenth best RPI in the country, and the sixth-hardest schedule in the country, with wins over Louisville, Missouri and Providence. The Wildcats are thriving at home, and haven’t lost in Lexington this season.
The key for Florida is the ability of its players to come through down the stretch of ballgames. Scottie Wilbekin, averaging nearly 13 points per game, relishes the rock late in games. He even hit the game-tying floater against Arkansas in a very hostile environment. Florida took over and won the game in overtime. Also look for Michael Frazer II, who is shooting an absurd 45.6 from deep. Billy Donovan has solid options in the final minutes, and that’s without mentioning Casey Prather, the veteran leader of the squad, who is averaging nearly 16 points and five boards per game.
On the other side, Kentucky is doing it like they have been; with young stars that will likely bounce for the NBA, before Coach Cal can even hit the recruiting trail. Obviously, the focus this year is on freshman Julius Randle, who is projected as a top ten pick by NBADraft.net. He has struggled in recent weeks, likely because he has been drawing multiple defenders. Randle still has that rare playmaking ability. He nearly averages double-double per contest, at 16 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Another player to watch on Kentucky is freshman guard Andrew Harrison. Harrison doesn’t have the explosiveness as some previous Kentucky point guards, but he has done a nice job controlling the offense and limiting turnovers, and more importantly has gained the trust of Calipari.
In non-conference play, Dakari Johnson did not have as much of an impact as he is having now, and that could be huge in stopping Florida. Florida’s senior center, Patric Young, is a big body down low, and Kentucky may have an answer in Johnson. Throw in Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, and Kentucky has a nice blend of veterans and highly-skilled freshmen.
With two premier coaches, skilled big men, and talented guard play, the teams mirror each other in many ways. The role players on each team will prove to be key, as they have been around the block and can provide a calming presence in the final stretch of the season, where both teams have monumental expectations.
Both squads have the talent and poise to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, and this game will serve as a showcase for both coaches to see where their ball clubs are at this point in conference play.
Mike Gilbert is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email michael.gilbertPSU@gmail.com.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Has interned with WYLNTV-35, SportsNet New York, NPR New York Affiliate, WNYC, GoPSUSports.com, The Rye Record, MSG Varsity. Anchored sports for live newscasts at WYLN as well as created packages, VOs and VOSOTs. Covered local high school, college and professional sports including the Yankees Triple-A affiliate. Current contributor for Centre County Report and member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. My goal is to take over for Howard Stern when he retires, but more realistically, and since Howard can never be replaced, to become a sports anchor or studio host in a major market or nationally.