The Ohio State Buckeyes are serious contenders to win a national championship—Florida is not.
That still doesn’t mean the Buckeyes are 10 points better than the Gators in the first real test of the season for two 1-0 teams.
In a rematch of the 2007 National Championship game, I think the Gators strong rebounding and junior Kenny Boynton are enough to keep this game within single digits.
You may remember the 93-75 OSU beat down at the hands of Florida around the exact same time last year, but this Florida team is much better defensively. The team was chalk full of extremely young players last season, and their inexperience showed up early on in the season.
Yet after a strong finish to the season that ended in an Elite Eight appearance, this Gator team has grown up since last November. Sophomore Patric Young believes their defense has improved ten-fold from a year ago:
We did not play defense well at all last year. I feel as if the defensive presence for this team is a lot better this year. We elevated our team to a really high level at the end of the year, defensively, and now I feel we're even better than that team.
Part of the reason Ohio State is favored by so much is the return of 6'9", do-everything forward Jared Sullinger. He averaged 17 points and 9.4 rebounds last season while winning multiple Freshman of the Year awards. William Buford, the lanky senior that has the chance to become the leading scorer in school history, returns as Sullinger’s sidekick.
I don’t think the 6'9", 250-pound Young can completely shut down Sullinger, but I think he can minimize his impact on the glass. Holding the Buckeyes to one shot per possession will allow guards Erving Walker and Boynton to get the fast break going. Boynton is terrific on the run and has the explosive first step to blow by Buckeye defenders.
Freshman Bradley Beal had 14 points in his first game as a Gator, and he has the sort of athleticism to really give the Buckeyes issues around the basket.
I’m not predicting a Gator win; I think the home crowd and Sullinger will be enough to get the victory.
But this isn’t going to be a blowout. This is going to be a tight game from beginning to end.
Gators are 5-0-1 ATS in their last six games as a road underdog.
Gators are 6-1 ATS in their last seven non-conference games.
Gators are 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven road games vs. a team with a home winning percentage of greater than .600.
Prediction: Ohio State 75 Florida 69