The Florida Gators and Missouri Tigers have gotten off to good starts in conference play, starting 2-0 and 1-0 respectively, but their matchup on Saturday in Columbia will ruin one of those streaks.
The Gators have been up and down all season, rising up to a No. 5 ranking nationally after a strong showing at the PK80 tournament in Portland, but have struggled as of late, posting losses to Florida State, Loyola-Chicago, and Clemson in their meteoric fall from the top-25 polls.
But they have rebounded, winning their last four games by an average margin of victory of 12 points per game, and looked dominant in their road victory over an injured Texas A&M squad in College Station, with Keith Stone posting a career high 18 points and four 3-pointers.
The Tigers looked impressive as well in their win at South Carolina, as they also hit more threes than twos in their 11-point victory. They were led by Jontay Porter’s five 3-pointers and 19 points, as well as seven rebounds and four blocks. Kassius Robertson added 23 points and Jordan Barnett posted 19.
Missouri has been relatively inconsistent throughout the season, however, getting run off the floor by Utah and losing to Illinois, as well as only beating Division II Emporia State by five, but they do have impressive victories over Iowa State, Central Florida, and Stephen F. Austin in the non-conference slate.
Let’s look at the players to watch, the keys to victory, and a score prediction for Saturday afternoon’s matchup.
Players to Watch
Jontay Porter (Missouri)
Most people around the college basketball landscape hear the last name Porter and Missouri and think of Michael Porter Jr., who is projected to be a top-five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, but with Porter Jr.’s injury early in the season, a new Porter has emerged for Missouri and has been one of the best freshmen in the conference.
That would be his brother, Jontay, who has impressed this season off of the bench for Cuonzo Martin as a backup power forward and center.
Porter is fifth on the team with 8.3 points, but leads the team in rebounding and blocks per game, ranking 11th and 6th in the conference, respectively.
Porter was excellent in Missouri’s conference opener, posting a career high with 19 points on the strength of 5 of 7 threes, while also grabbing seven rebounds and swatting four shots in 27 minutes.
If Porter can maintain that level of production, the Tigers will be very successful in this contest and for contests to come.
Chris Chiozza (Florida)
Chiozza has taken the reigns of the offense for the Gators fully after the relegation of Jalen Hudson to the bench for Mike White’s squad, and he has responded to the change well, averaging 14 points per game since the change, as well as 5.8 assists while committing a total of 3 turnovers during that stretch.
The senior guard was stuck behind Kasey Hill for his first three seasons, but in his fourth year, his first as a full-time starter, Chiozza has blossomed into a lead guard that is posting career highs in every statistical category, as well as posting his highest efficiency numbers of his career.
If Chiozza can continue to be so incredibly efficient in his creation and running of the offense, Florida is one of the best teams in the SEC and becomes difficult to beat when March rolls around.
How Missouri Can Win
The Tigers need to have a solid game defending the 3-point line against the likes of Egor Koulechov, Keith Stone, and Jalen Hudson, who lit up Texas A&M’s three point defense to the tune of 12 3-pointers between the three of them.
Missouri has been quite effective in three-point defense this season, ranking 60th in lowest 3-point percentage allowed, but this Florida team is a whole different animal when they can get it going.
Look for the Gators to take and make some difficult threes, but if the Tigers give up too many open looks, they won’t stand a chance in this game.
How Florida Can Win
The Gators need to shut down Kassius Robertson, who has been a special pickup for the Tigers this season.
A graduate transfer from Canisius, Robertson has translated his high level of scoring output from the MAAC to the SEC, averaging 15.6 points per game on over 40 percent shooting from the 3-point line.
Robertson will be guarded by Chiozza primarily as the point-guard matchup in this contest, and the latter has done a decent job defending point guards this year, but Robertson is a whole new animal due to his ability to shoot from outside.
The onus belongs to Chiozza to shut Robertson down, and if that happens, the Gators will have an upper hand in the game’s trajectory.
This game will be one of the best on Saturday’s slate in the SEC, as both teams have played well as of late.
Because of home-court advantage, I’m going to go with Missouri here in a close one, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Florida shoots the lights out of the ball with their dynamic guards and wins this game to improve to 3-0 in conference play.
Prediction: Missouri 78, Florida 73