Florida basketball: The Gators look to open SEC play with a big win over No. 6 Kentucky

Florida hosts the Wildcats this afternoon looking for a marquee win in theri conference opener

Dec 30, 2023; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators guard Riley Kugel (2) shoots over Quinnipiac
Dec 30, 2023; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators guard Riley Kugel (2) shoots over Quinnipiac / Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
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Florida basketball sits at 10-3 after concluding their opening string of games and is now ready for the grind of an SEC schedule.

The Gators have quite the opportunity in their first conference game of the season, as they are set to host the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats this afternoon in Exactech Arena.

The game tips off at 12:30 pm ET, and will be broadcast on ESPN.

Despite Kentucky's ranking and star power, there is a lot of confidence in the Gators as they prep for this matchup.

Florida basketball: Defend home court

When conference play begins, home games almost become must-win for teams on the edge of the bracket projections. Being able to defend your home court is vital, as winning on the road in college hoops is never easy.

With the Rowdy Reptiles behind the Gators, there is lots of faith among the public that Florida will come out and have a good day.

ESPN's FPI gives Florida a 61.6% chance to win outright, and as of Friday night, the Gators were 3.5-point favorites taking on 75% of the bets.

The biggest argument for the Gators in this one is their rebounding. Florida is the best rebounding team in the country, grabbing 45.4 per game compared to Kentucky's 38.3.

Florida being so good on the glass in large part goes to the credit of Tyrese Samuel, who has brought in 8.8 a game, along with Micah Handlogten who is averaging 7.1 boards.

The Gators will need to defend the three-point line well if they want to win this game. Antonio Reeves, Kentucky's leading scorer is shooting 45.9% from deep, while the freshman Reed Sheppard is knocking down an impressive 56% of his shots from three.

The bottom line is that regardless of Kentucky's ranking, this is an important win for Todd Golden and the Gators. This is one of the games we will look back at in March as either a big reason Florida made the tournament, or a game that may have gotten them in if they had won it.