KENTUCKY WILDCATS (17-6)
at FLORIDA GATORS (19-3)
Stephen C. OíConnell Center Ė Gainesville, FL
Tip-off: Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: Florida -10.5, Total: 134
No. 7 Florida will host No. 25 Kentucky Tuesday night in the first of the two meetings between these schools this year.
After a shaky start to the season, the Wildcats have begun to find some consistency, now the winners of five games in a row, including an upset of then-No. 16 Ole Miss on the road. Florida shockingly lost by 11 on the road to Arkansas last week, but recovered quickly to crush Mississippi State by 25 at home, where they are 11-0 SU this season and outscoring visitors by a an average score of 78 to 49. But Kentucky has won five straight meetings between these schools by an average of 12.4 PPG.
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These two teams met three times last season, with the eventual national champion Wildcats prevailing in all three meetings. This yearís Kentucky squad is 10th in the nation in field goal percentage (48.8%), led by PF Alex Poythress (12.3 PPG, 61% FG), who also adds 6.4 RPG. Poythress has seen reduced minutes lately and is averaging just 6.7 PPG over Kentuckyís past three contests, but he is an NBA talent with elite athleticism. Fellow first-year player SG Archie Goodwin (14.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) paces the team in scoring and has also struggled in the past few games, averaging just 8.7 PPG over the past three contests. Goodwin has made just 26% of his threes this season. C Nerlens Noel (10.6 PPG, 9.6 RPG) has been one of the guys to pick it up, recording three consecutive double-doubles (13.0 PPG, 12.0 RPG). Noel, also a freshman, is more known for his prowess on the defensive end, where heís averaging a nation-leading 4.5 BPG and also has 2.1 SPG. Sophomore F Kyle Wiltjer (11.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG) nicely complements Noel in the frontcourt with a good jump shot, averaging 2.1 threes per game on a 40.7% clip. Wiltjer and Noel have a reliable backup in freshman 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein (7.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG) who has come back from an injury to score 12.5 PPG on 10-of-12 FG in his past two games. PG Ryan Harrow (10.4 PPG, 3.3 APG) rounds out the teamís starting double-digit scorers and is the teamís primary ball distributor, alongside Julius Mays (9.3 PPG, 3.0 APG).
After losing the first two matchups by a combined 35 points, the Gators fell by just three points to the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament semifinals. PF Erik Murphy (12.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG) led the way in that contest with a game-high 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Like Wiltjer, heís a dangerous shooter with a tall frame, averaging 2.2 threes per game on an incredible 49.5% clip. Overall, his 56.4% FG is one of the main reasons the Gators are seventh in the nation with a 49.4% FG. Murphy injured his ankle in Floridaís win against Mississippi State, but is probable for action Tuesday. However, the Gators will remain without lockdown defender Will Yeguete (knee), who is out 4-to-6 weeks. The teamís leading scorer is SG Kenny Boynton (13.1 PPG), who in last yearís narrow loss to Kentucky scored just two points on 1-for-9 shooting. He has struggled in his past three games, hitting just 10-of-33 FG, but is still averaging 2.2 threes per game on the season. PG Scottie Wilbekin (9.3 PPG, 5.1 APG) runs the offense while C Patric Young (10.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG) is the teamís leading rebounder. Especially with Yeguete injured, Young will need to step up on the boards and battle Noel to give the Gators second-chance opportunities. Like Noel, Young is an athletic and strong defender, averaging 1.7 BPG and 1.0 SPG this season.