Here are three questions for tonight's (6 p.m. CT/ESPN) SEC basketball game between Alabama (16-8, 5-5 in SEC) and Florida (19-6, 7-3) at Coleman Coliseum.
Rodney Cooper and the rest of the Alabama backcourt will have their hands full with Florida's guards.
Can Alabama keep it in the 60s?
While Florida hasn't been invincible when eclipsing the 70-point mark this season (of the Gators' six losses, three have come in games in which they've scored 70 or more points), considering the offensive firepower Alabama will be without Tuesday night, it's hard to imagine the Crimson Tide winning a contest that travels north of the 60s.
In addition to giving the Crimson Tide some scoring punch, Alabama's young guards will need to be even better when it comes to locating Boynton on the defensive end. The junior ranks second in the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage (44.3 percent). As a team, Florida leads the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage offense (39.4 percent), while UA ranks first in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage defense (27.6 percent).
If there's a positive for the Crimson Tide heading into Tuesday night it's that the Gators, losers of two straight for the first time since the 2009-2010 season, haven't been as good offensively in conference play. In league games only, UF is averaging 68.9 points on 43.8 percent shooting, including 36 percent from the 3-point line.
To put the play of the two freshmen in Baton Rouge in perspective, consider that the season-high combined point production from JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell was 41 points against Wichita State in Puerto Rico back in November.
When thrust into a prominent role, young players often succumb to the white-hot spotlight that comes with opportunity. Instead, Cooper appeared at ease at LSU, turning in a 28-point night that came within the framework of the team concept. This wasn't a young gunner hoisting ill-advised shots; in hitting on 10-of-19 shots in the loss to the Tigers, Cooper was extremely efficient.
While Cooper and Jacobs have provided UA fans with the warms and fuzzies when thinking about the future, they are freshman and freshman are prone to stretches of up-and-down play. That's where the return of Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele should help. Another big night from the freshmen would be welcomed, but the outcome won't rest entirely on their contributions.
Factoring in Saturday's home date with Tennessee, is this a make-or-break week for the Crimson Tide from an NCAA Tournament standpoint?
For UA, the problem is twofold: There's what awaits the Crimson Tide and there's what is in its wake. Road losses to the likes of South Carolina and LSU mean that ground must be made up elsewhere -- like, say, home games against Vanderbilt, Florida and Tennessee.
UA has already dropped one of those opportunities, so a sweep of the Gators and Vols is needed to push the Crimson Tide on the plus side of those five games. Does that mean a split or shutout this week would completely extinguish Alabama's Big Dance hopes? Not necessarily, but at some point UA's at-large-worthy RPI (32) is going to need some wins to stay afloat.
The Man says: Florida -3.5.
Prediction: Florida 65, Alabama 61.
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