Florida vs. Kentucky: Last-Minute Guide to Massive SEC Clash

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2014

Florida coach Billy Donovan, left, talks with Kenny Boynton (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Florida in Gainesville, Fla., Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Boynton led the Gators to a 91-55 win over North Florida with a game-high total of 20 points. (AP Photo/ Phil Sandlin)
PHIL SANDLIN/Associated Press

The SEC regular-season title may well be decided on Saturday night when the No. 2 Florida Gators (22-2, 11-0 SEC) travel to Lexington to take on the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats (19-5, 9-2 SEC).

These are the only two teams the SEC has ranked in the Top 25 at the moment, and it would be a shock if the title went to somebody else.

Should Florida win and build a three-game lead over Kentucky, you'd have to think that race is all but over.

However, if the Wildcats prevail, they'll get to within a game of the lead, which would likely leave it all up to their regular-season finale in Gainesville.

It should be a great game from start to finish on Saturday night and should be considered must-watch television for any college basketball fan.

Here's a quick preview for the huge SEC battle, with two of the bigger storylines to follow throughout the action.


When: Saturday, Feb. 15, at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN


Top Storylines

Which Kentucky Shows Up?

James Crisp/Associated Press

Although the Wildcats carry an impressive record into this game, there's no getting around the fact that they've had their fair share of problems on the court. Most of it stems from having such a high turnover from year to year and constantly relying on young players who have little experience on the court.

Sure Kentucky won a national title with a ton of freshmen a few years ago, but that team had Anthony Davis.

Since conference play began, Calipari's team has demonstrated more composure and isn't making the same kind of stupid mistakes that it did earlier in the season.

And just when you think all is right with the world, the Wildcats have a performance like the one against Auburn back on Wednesday. They shot 30.9 percent as a team against the Tigers. Julius Randle scored 12 points, roughly four below his season average, while Andrew Harrison and James Young combined to shoot 4-for-20 from the floor.

Kentucky came out with a win, though, so it's all good. It won't be so lucky against Florida.

Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Calipari knows that a much better showing is necessary to get past the Gators. This game is also a great litmus test for the Wildcats to see how much they've grown over the season and whether there are still some kinks to iron out.

Per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

"This game will tell us where we are," Calipari said Friday. "I would imagine they (the Gators) are coming in not to just win, they want to smash. We're going to find out. There have been games where the other team came in excited and we weren't able to withstand the beginning of the game and got down so far early that even though the rest of the game we won, we didn't win by enough.

"They know it's a hard game, they know what we're up against. This team could be the No. 1 team in the country and they've got (four) seniors."

Playing at home will no doubt be a huge boost for the Wildcats.


Does Talent or Experience Win Out?

Phil Sears/Associated Press

On paper, Kentucky should get a slight edge. A starting five of the Harrison twins, James Young, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson is about as good as it gets in the country.

Even Billy Donovan acknowledged the strength of the No. 14 team in the country, per Thomas Goldkamp of GatorBait.net:

"I think probably top to bottom, (one of) the most talented (teams), if not the most talented team in the country," Donovan said. "You’re talking about every position that they’ve got on the floor there they’ve got scoring ability, they’ve got size, they’ve got athleticism, they’ve got great length."

The problem is that, as noted briefly above, it can take freshmen some time to gel together and build continuity. There's also the transition from high school to college, which means a higher standard and more pressurized setting.

On the other side is one of the most experienced teams in the conference. There's very little that Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Will Yeguette haven't seen.

The Gators lost 61-57 in Rupp Arena last season. This is a stronger Florida team, though, as the aforementioned four players are more seasoned, and Kenny Boynton isn't there to Kenny Boynton everything.

Kentucky is likely to make a couple of shots that get the crowd in Lexington on its feet and swing the momentum in the Wildcats' favor. The way the Gators respond to that adversity will decide the game. If they can overcome and put all of the pressure back on the young Wildcats, it could be game over. The young freshmen could struggle, and the expectant home crowd would become a burden rather than a help.