Georgia at Florida in Prime Time on ESPN2

The Georgia Bulldogs (18-8; 7-5) head to Gainesville on Thursday night for a rematch with the #13 Florida Gators, who beat the Dawgs in Athens earlier this season 104-91.  The first meeting between these two teams was one of the better college basketball games of the year, with Georgia coming from behind to send the game into overtime only to have Florida’s Erving Walker hit a three-pointer to force a second overtime.  The Gators were the only team interested in playing in the second overtime as they outscored the Dawgs 19-6 en route a big SEC road victory.

Florida (21-5; 10-2) is undoubtedly the best team in the conference this year, and they are currently riding a five-game winning streak.  The Gators, however, could be playing once again without their preseason All-SEC Second-Team forward Chandler Parsons.  Parsons sustained a deep thigh bruise in Florida’s win over Tennessee on February 12th, forcing him to sit out the second half of that game as well as the LSU game last Sunday – a game that the Gators won 68-61.

Florida coach Billy Donovan did not sound positive about whether or not his star forward would play during Monday’s press conference.

“Right now, I’m not personally, overly optimistic that he’ll play,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I think in his mind, he’d like to try to play. … The last time he did anything physically was this past Friday and he couldn’t do much at all.  We’ll prepare for the game without him and if he plays, it’s a bonus.”

Georgia coach Mark Fox didn’t seem to be buying it though, saying that the Dawgs would “prepare like he is going to play”.

Whether Parsons plays or not remains to be seen, but either way this game is still a difficult road test for a Georgia team that has not won a game in Gainesville in nine years.

That being said, this year’s Bulldogs squad seems to prefer life on the road.  Following the Dawgs’ huge win last Saturday in Knoxville over Tennessee, Georgia now holds an 7-2 record in true road games on the season, and they are 4-2 in SEC games played away from Athens.

In the first game between these teams, the Dawgs did not have an answer for Florida’s dynamic guard tandem of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton.  Walker and Boynton scored 24 points apiece, and they shot a combined 24 free throws (connecting on 20 of them).  Both guards used a plethora of high screens to get themselves into the paint where they were able to create at will.  Georgia’s bigs must do a better job of stopping penetration off the pick-and-roll, and making it more difficult for Walker and Boynton to get into the lane.

Florida center Vernon Macklin, who is a load inside at 6’10” and 245 pounds, is having a solid senior season for Coach Donovan, averaging 12.7 ppg and shooting over 57% from the field in conference play.  Macklin shot 10 of 15 from the floor and scored 23 points in the game in Athens, his highest scoring output in an SEC game this season.  With the way Trey Thompkins has been defending lately – 15 blocks in his last six games – I would not be at all surprised to see Coach Fox put him on Florida’s big center (and move either Jeremy Price or Chris Barnes on to Alex Tyus).

Though Trey has been playing some inspired defense lately, he has struggled to find offense since the first game against the Gators (the last time he went for 20 points or more).  In the seven games since the Florida one, Thompkins is shooting just 37.3% from the floor and averaging only 12.3 points.  Despite Trey’s offensive woes, the Dawgs have gone 4-3 in this same span of games.  Imagine how dangerous Georgia would be if Thompkins could get his shot going again?

Georgia has two home games left this year on their conference slate – South Carolina and LSU.  If they win those (as they should), they’ll finish with a winning SEC record and will most likely earn an at-large berth into this year’s NCAA tournament.

That means, in a way, that the pressure is off for the game on Thursday (another perk from the win against the Vols).  Mark Fox’s team should play as if they have nothing to lose, and treat this game as a bonus opportunity to upset a conference rival on their home court (and to possibly improve their NCAA seeding – last “Bracketology” had the Dawgs as a 10-seed).

The Gators are 12-3 this year in Gainesville, and again, they haven’t lost one to Georgia in the Oconnell Center in 9 years.

Georgia’s victory in Knoxville last Saturday was their first at Tennessee in over a decade.

It might be time for the Dawgs to end another streak.