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SEC Play Begins: Ole Miss vs. Florida

The Rebels biggest challenge of the basketball year thus far will have home court advantage, a roster with length and a coach with national title credentials.

Florida and Ole Miss will tip off at 7 p.m. CST on CSS or some other small cable provider in your market. The Rebels are not hampered by injuries heading into this game other than a nagging hamstring for guard Trevor Gaskins.

Florida's Vernon Macklin (one of three Gators who are 6'10'') has a strained pectoral but is cleared to play as pain allows, according to coach Billy Donovan. Macklin averages 10.5 points and 6 rebounds per game, so his availability could be important to the Gators.

The larger story to this game is two teams who have played with extreme inconsistencies in the first 15 or so games of the season. Florida hitting a high water mark by defeating then #6 Kansas State and then inexplicably recording a loss to Jacksonville. Ole Miss' best win either comes against Southern Miss or Penn State but completely collapsed in games against Colorado State and Miami away from the friendly confines of Oxford.

So how will the Rebels fare in Gainesville?

Saturday will most likely be a recurring theme that Rebel fans will see unfold during conference play: the SEC East has better basketball athletes in general than Ole Miss. Better athletes does not always mean losses piling up, but it can also cause a team to get run out of a coliseum.

The Gators' last game hosted Rhode Island in Gainesville and ended with a 25-point victory for Florida. Absolutely a dominating performance. Florida has great bigs who will be by far the greatest challenge Reginald Buckner and Terrance Henry have faced this season. Toss in guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker who both score over 10 points per game, and the Rebel defense as a whole will have its hands full for 40 minutes of play.

Ole Miss has a rebounding advantage heading into SEC play, which pleases basketball crazies like myself. Florida also boasts a 7 or 8 rebound per game advantage, so the boards will be vital to second chance points to keep Ole Miss in the game.

The importance of this game has been stated time and time again. It's a high RPI ranked team who is playing at home. A win in Gainesville today would significantly boost the Rebels' RPI. As one of our posters commented this week, our front heavy SEC schedule should also allow for a good streak of conference wins to close out the season as well.

In our weekend picks, I couldn't pick the Rebels, because the Gators as a younger team last season beat Ole Miss in Oxford (when we had Terrico White). Our bigs have improved significantly, but I worry about our ability to keep a lid on Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus (who looks like Predator) and Erving Walker.

If I'm Billy Donovan, I send my players crashing to the rim to get Buckner out of the game as quickly as possible to limit his defensive impact. The Gators only allow 59 points per game, but they do not seem like a block or steal heavy team - just a team that hustles and contests shots. That fact should work to the Rebels advantage as usually either Chris Warren, Zach Graham or Gaskins can be hot from deep on any given day.

BOLD Predictions

- Reginald Buckner will not foul out.

- Chris Warren will score fewer than 15 points.

- Terrance Henry will lead the Rebels in rebounds with 8.

Final prediction

Florida 84

Ole Miss 76