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Florida at #9 Auburn Game Preview and Open Thread

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It’s Saturday Night in Auburn Arena!!!

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday January 8th, 2022

Florida Gators at Auburn Tigers

Auburn Arena

Time: 7:00PM CT

Network: ESPN2, Auburn Radio Network

Auburn (13-1, 2-0) has begun their SEC run with a pair of 15-point wins over LSU and South Carolina. Tonight, the Tigers face a team that they have historically struggled against this century.

The Florida Gators (9-4, 0-1) come into town this evening in what should be a terrific matchup of big man as Walker Kessler goes up against Florida’s Colin Castleton. Castleton was a 1st-Team all-SEC player preseason and will be on the best big men the Tigers face in SEC play.

Dating back to the 1999-2000 season, Auburn is 4-24 against Florida. In that time, 3 of those 4 wins have come in the SEC Tournament with the only regular season win coming in the Final Four season, a 76-62 win.

Auburn will face the Gators twice this season with the second meeting taking place in Gainesville on February 19th. Tonight is also the Tigers only SEC Saturday Night home game so the Jungle will have the entire day to get amped up for this one.

The Tigers passed their first SEC road test on Tuesday with an 81-66 win over South Carolina. Wendell Green Jr. was sensational leading the way with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. The most impressive thing about Green’s performance Tuesday is he did most of his damage in the paint with just 5 of his 15 FG attempts coming from 3. While Green has come off the bench most of the season, he’s certainly finishing games strong for the Tigers.

Zep Jasper had just 13 points combined over a 4-game stretch prior to Tuesday’s game with South Carolina. On Tuesday, playing just 60 miles from his hometown, Jasper scored 13 points and knocked down a pair of 3s. While Jasper has consistently been a great defender this year, the offensive success was a welcome development for Auburn.

Walker Kessler had another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and made all 5 of his FG attempts (all dunks). Kessler had 4 more blocks on Tuesday to bring his season total to 61. In case you were wondering what the single-season record was, Kyle Davis had 126 blocks during the 2002-2003 season.

Jabari Smith closed the game well for Auburn but was held in check for most of the game and dealt with some early foul trouble. Smith scored 7 of his 10 points in the final 5:10 of the game including a jumper to halt a stretch of 7+ minutes without a bucket when South Carolina had cut a 20 point deficit down to 8.

Get to Know Florida

Florida comes in to Auburn Arena after a tough second half against Alabama at home on Wednesday where they fell 83-70. After leading the Tide 39-36 at halftime, the Gators went over 8 minutes before their first bucket of the half as Alabama started the half on a 22-4 run. The Gators made a late run but could get no closer than 5 down the stretch.

They won the Fort Myers Tip-Off knocking off California and Ohio State on a buzzer beater 3-pointer but they have one of the most head-scratching losses across College Basketball this season, losing at home by 15 to Texas Southern. They also lost by 2 to Maryland in Brooklyn and fell by 7 at Oklahoma, who Auburn will see 3 weeks from today.

As a team, they average 73.7 PPG while only giving up 61.7 PPG. They shoot 31.5% from 3 and as of this writing, sit at 33 in KenPom.

The Gators top 6 scorers are all seniors or graduate students and their top 7 players all began their careers elsewhere before transferring to Florida.

I mentioned Colin Castleton (#12) earlier and he’s the focal point of this Gators team and his matchup with Walker Kessler is something I’m looking forward to watching the most this evening. The 6’11”, 240 pound forward burst onto the scene last season after transferring from Michigan and was 2nd team All-SEC last season. This year, he’s averaging close to a double-double averaging 15.1 PPG and 9.2 RPG.

Florida’s only other double-digit scorer is guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (#24) who spent 4 seasons at Charleston Southern and was the Big South’s Defensive Player of the Year the last 2 seasons. Fleming Jr. is averaging 10.9 PPG and shoots 35.9% from 3. He has been in the starting lineup for 5 games so far this season.

Next is guard Tyree Appleby (#22) who averages 9.9 PPG. The Arkansas native leads the team in assists and free throw shooting (85.1%). Appleby shoots 30.6% from 3-point range.

Tonight will be a homecoming for guard Myreon Jones (#0) who played at Huffman High School in Birmingham before 3 seasons before finishing his high school in Georgia. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Auburn was interested in Jones this offseason before he chose to go to Florida after 3 seasons at Penn State. This season, Jones is averaging 9.7 PPG and shoots 29.3% from 3-point range.

Joining Casleton in the frontcourt is forward Anthony Duruji (#4), averaging 8.8 PPG and 4.3 RPG. Duruji is 10-22 (45.5%) from 3-point range this season.

Guard Brandon McKissic (#23) is another grad transfer that won a defensive player of the year award last season as he was the Summit League’s Defensive Player of the Year at Missouri-Kansas City. This season, he’s averaging 7.2 PPG and shooting 31.4% from 3-point range.

Guard CJ Felder (#1) is Florida’s other primary contributor off the bench averaging 5.2 PPG and is shooting 10-21 (47.6%) from 3 this season. Felder transferred to Florida from Boston College.

Prediction

We talked about the history the last 20 seasons between these 2 teams and while it certainly doesn’t favor the Tigers, the last time these teams played with a full Auburn Arena, Auburn came out on top. Auburn will look to feed off the crowd in their final game before their showdown at Alabama on Tuesday.

I’m looking for a bounce back game from Jabari Smith in this one and the matchup between Kessler and Castleton will go a long way into determining the outcome of this game. This should be a fun competitive game Saturday night in Auburn Arena and won’t be an easy task but feel pretty good about Auburn’s chances.

Auburn 73 Florida 62