The Auburn Tigers will travel to Gainesville Saturday night to play the Gators of Florida. With a win, the Tigers can lock up at least a share of the regular season SEC title. For the Gators, their once-promising season has basically fallen apart as they find themselves squarely on the bubble after spending much of the season ranked nationally. The Gators have lost three in a row and five out of their last seven, and all the sudden must win tonight if they don’t want to end up on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday. The Gators are -1.5-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 154 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 PM PST from the O’Connell Center.
The Auburn Tigers were picked to finish ninth in the SEC this season. They have been shorthanded all season long with various injuries and suspensions. Yet here they are, about to lock up the SEC regular season title. The Tigers hold a two-game lead over Tennessee and if they win tonight, can do no better than a regular season split of the SEC title. Head coach Bruce Pearl has managed to win many games that he probably shouldn’t have this season, he has done a remarkable job and is my pick for national coach of the year.
The Tigers didn’t have much of a non-conference slate this season, but they have coasted through the SEC in league play. The Tigers 12-3 record in the SEC play has them eyeing the top seed in the SEC tournament, and if they run the table, a possible top line seed in the NCAA tournament as well. But even with all of that success, they still play every game like they are underdogs, and that is where they find themselves again tonight against a very talented, yet inconsistent Florida Gators team.
The Florida Gators are the most inconsistent team in the country this year. They have had times where they look amazing. Like when the beat a really good Gonzaga team, or when they beat a Cincinnati team that should be on a top two line for the NCAA tournament. But at other times, they look like a completely different team.
The Gators have lost games to Loyola Chicago, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, and Vanderbilt. Those nasty blemishes are starting to overshadow all of their great wins, and as Selection Sunday approaches, the Gators could end up on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament. That is something that was near inconceivable just a couple of weeks ago, but the Gators just can’t seem to win basketball games right now. Even at home, Florida has struggled.
The Gators have home-court losses to Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina and all of those have come in the last month. You have to wonder if the Gators will be able to get back what made them look so good early in the season and stop this nasty losing streak tonight.
If you read my daily picks a lot, you know I love backing the home teams in league play. But I am going to buck that trend tonight and back the Auburn Tigers. Yeah, I know they might be shorthanded as Mustapha Heron might miss the game with the flu, but this Tigers team played Alabama with just eight players in uniform in their last game and blew them out by twenty-one points. This is one of the more balanced teams in the country, and it doesn’t matter which players are on the court, they find ways to win games. And I expect that trend to continue tonight in Florida.
I don’t know exactly how they are going to do it, but when the smoke clears I expect Auburn to win the game and lock up the SEC title tonight. I just can’t back a Florida team that is so inconsistent and playing so poorly at the moment. Could the Gators win this game by double digits? If they play their best game, they certainly could. But could they lay an egg and lose at home, yet again? Of course, they could. I am going to snatch up the +1.5-points because backing road teams in league play, is always a bit risky and I don’t mind the insurance, but I do think the Tigers are going to take this one outright. Give me the Auburn Tigers +1.5-points tonight!