So, needless to say, the Kentucky game was a huge win against the class of the SEC, even if the Wildcats played horrible (and are in a down year.) It was really encouraging to see the team perform at near-peak levels while Simmons was hampered by foul-trouble, and it was great to see him find a way to make an impact regardless. Important test after winning first two SEC games, against a defensive juggernaut in the Gators (ranked 3 in the nation in AdjD by KenPom.)This is a Florida team in dire need of a win, which makes them dangerous, as Gainesville isn't an easy place to play, no matter the sport. They aren't entirely healthy (still waiting the returning of forward Alex Murphy, still nursing a bad foot), but they've responded positively to first year head coach Mike White and look like they could be a team on the rise. They need to get the ball moving on offense, but have multiple legit scoring threats. Do not let the departure of Billy Donovan fool you; this Gator program won't be much different going forward than it was under him (they have a really great basketball infrastructure.)
The Tigers are playing extraordinarily well, building on each positive performance they've had since the return of Hornsby and then VC in back-to-back about a month ago, with the only real downswing coming during the Wake Forest game (and I think the Demon Deacons are a better team than most, including advanced statistics, give them credit for.) As for how the Tigers perform on the road vs. in the PMAC, the Tigers are 1-4 in games not in Baton Rouge, with the sole win being the impressive SEC-play opening game at Vanderbilt. Simmons and co need many more of those, solid SEC road-wins, if they are going to grow into a team that can make an impact in the SEC, and yes, NCAA tourney.
This is a game where I think Blakeney could break-out. He was an all-world scorer in highschool, and shown some flashes at this level, but is yet to have his first impact scoring game. Against a stingy, stymying team-defense like Florida's, the Tigers are going to need someone to step-up, beat his man, and create a shot for himself. While this has been Quartermans role to a certain extent so far this year, Blakeney is the one who should be excelling in late-clock/late-game situations (and likely will after another year or two of development.) I even wouldn't mind starting Gray/Patterson in his place, and giving him a shot as a true 6th man (that way, you can even get Simmons an extra couple minutes' rest here and there, and curate the offense to Tone's liking when he's out there.) Jones can be painfully uninventive with his line-ups/rotations, so I wouldn't expect it, but if the team struggles to get buckets in the first half, it probably couldn't hurt. Big showing or not, finding a way to get more out of Blakeney in general is going to be one of the keys to success for this team for the rest of the year.
I'm wary of the team's ability to play on the road (getting overwhelmed in Charleston was a HUGE red flag for me), but this feels like it should be a close win to continue building momentum. We should get a great game out of Simmons, who is playing in Florida (where he attended high school) for the first-time in his collegiate career and should have a strong contingent from his community at the game. The Gators can be careless with the ball, and that should lead to a slew of easy LSU buckets. My prediction: LSU comes out on top, 75-71.