Who will WIN this matchup?
Arkansas Razorbacks (17-14)
Florida Gators (17-14)
Arkansas Razorbacks: (+145)
Florida Gators: (-165)
• The line for this game is Florida by 3.5 points.
• Florida takes on Arkansas in the second round of the SEC Tournament Thursday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Eighth-seeded Florida pulled out a 57-51 road triumph when these teams battled at Bud Walton Arena in January, but coach Mike White’s team comes in on a three-game skid while the ninth-seeded Razorbacks finished the regular season on a high note with a 3-0 mark in March. Both teams are fighting for their postseason lives and likely need a tournament run to have a shot at the Big Dance, but the winner of this contest has the challenge of tackling No. 1 seed LSU next although the Gators and Razorbacks were the only SEC teams to beat the Tigers this season.
• The Razorbacks knocked the Gators out of the SEC Tournament last season, winning 80-72 in the quarterfinals before falling in the semifinals to Tennessee.
• Spearheading the Razorbacks’ charge is forward Daniel Gafford, a consensus All-SEC first-teamer who had nine points and 12 rebounds in the earlier meeting with Florida and tops the conference in field goal percentage (66.0), rebounding (8.7) and offensive rebounding (2.87) while also sitting third in the league in blocked shots (2.06) and fourth in scoring (17.0). Guard Isaiah Joe was also named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team after a prolific campaign in which he set a school single-season record with 106 made 3-pointers, breaking Scotty Thurman’s mark of 102 in 1994-95, and he leads the conference in 3-pointers per game (3.42) along with 3-point percentage (42.9), but only went 2-of-9 against Florida. The Razorbacks are heating up at just the right time, averaging 50.3 percent shooting from the floor and 51.8 percent from long distance over the last three games while also limiting their mistakes with just 10.7 turnovers per game.
• The Gators also prominently feature an All-Freshman performer as point guard Andrew Nembhard was honored after an impressive season in which he dished out 162 assists, the 10th-highest single-season total in program history and the second-best performance by a frosh (Nick Calathes had 221 assists in 2007-08). Florida is also counting on fellow freshmen Noah Locke (10.2 points) and Keyontae Johnson (7.5 points, 5.8 rebounds) but Locke has cooled off with just two double-digit outings in the last eight games, including just five last time out in a 66-57 loss at Kentucky, after totaling 12 in the prior 14 games. Senior guard KeVaughn Allen often plays his best against his home state team (Arkansas) but he is just 9-of-41 from the floor and 3-of-21 from beyond the arc over the last four games, while senior center Kevarrius Hayes is coming off a big week that included his season highs for rebounds (career-best 15 versus LSU) and points (19 against Kentucky).
• This is the third time in the last four seasons that Florida and Arkansas will meet in the SEC Tournament and they split those two contests.
•Florida boasts the top scoring defense in the SEC (63.7) and the Gators held the Razorbacks well below their 76.3-point season average in their 57-51 win back in January.
• Arkansas G Mason Jones scored a career-high 30 points in the first meeting with Florida, a number he later matched against Mississippi State.