The most anticipated freshman to hit Gainesville since Patric Young will make his debut tonight. 2013 McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker (nicknamed “SkyWalker”), finally free from NCAA purgatory, is set to hit the court much to the delight of Rowdy Reptiles everywhere. Walker, a 6’10″, 225 pound forward/center, could not join Florida until mid-December due to being academically ineligible, then had to wait even longer as the NCAA Clearinghouse investigated him. The NCAA found Walker took improper benefits from two agents and three other people. When he had not yet signed with Florida, Walker accepted free cell phones and service, airfare, lodging, meals, and apparel. The whole fiasco has set Walker back $270, the amount he received from agents, to charity and serve 80 hours of community service. With all that said, Walker most likely won’t get many minutes, but we will see how his talent and energy affects the Gators coming off the bench.
Florida (19-2, 8-0 SEC) comes into the game on an absolute roll. The Gators have won a school-record 27 straight in the O’Dome and 13 consecutive games overall. The 27 straight at home is third in the nation, one behind Duke and Stephen F. Austin at 28 consecutive games. Despite beating Mississippi State by 11 in Starkville, demolishing Texas A&M by 33, holding the Aggies to only 36 points, and top-ranked Arizona losing, Florida maintained their number three ranking. The Gators have really locked down defensively, holding SEC opponents to about 55 points per game, including limiting the aforementioned Aggies to a season-low 36 points and Tennessee to 41. Overall, Florida is holding opponents to 57.1 points per game, good enough for sixth in the nation. And their defense will face a tough test tonight.
The Missouri Tigers (16-5, 4-4 SEC) have three of the SEC’s top 14 scorers. Led by conference leading scorer Jabari Brown with 20.4 points per game, Jordan Clarkson (18.9), and Earnest Ross (14.2) form a formidable trio for Florida to bottle up. The Tigers have been inconsistent in SEC play this year, losing to Georgia and Vanderbilt, while beating Arkansas in Fayetteville. In their last five games, Missouri is 3-2 with wins versus Alabama, Arkansas, and South Carolina, and losses to LSU and 11th-ranked Kentucky. Overall, Mizzou’s statistics are about in the middle, with the Tigers averaging 75 points per game offensively (tied for 90th in the country), while holding opponents to 67.4 points (97th nationally). One area Missouri has excelled in is free throw shooting and defensive rebounding. The Tigers lead the conference, hitting 72% of their free throws collectively, and nabbing 27.3 defensive rebounds.
Florida’s starting lineup will likely remain what it’s been lately with Michael Frazier II, Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguette, and Patric Young set to start. The big difference will be on the bench where the 6th overall recruit Chris Walker will make his debut and spell Dorian Finney-Smith, Prather, Yeguette, and Young. Missouri’s set to trot out Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson, Ryan Rosburg, Earnest Ross, and Johnathan Williams.
Florida and Missouri have split the only two games they’ve ever played with each team winning their home games last season. This meeting will be the only one between the Tigers and Gators this season. Florida looks to get their 16th straight 20-win season tonight. Only Duke and Syracuse have longer active streaks. The action starts at 9 pm on ESPN. You can also stream it live on WatchESPN, or listen to the game the Gator IMG Sports Network (Sirius/XM 85).