LSU and Florida were predicted to finish third and fourth in the SEC, respectively, in the league's preseason media poll. But with Kentucky struggling, the door is open for both teams to compete for an even better spot in the conference this season, and the winner of their Saturday matchup with each other on CBS will get a leg up in that race.
The odds are longer for Florida (4-1) to make a run at the league title after the Gators lost Keyontae Johnson, the preseason SEC Player of the Year, to a scary on-court collapse on Dec. 12 at Florida State. It's unclear if, or when, Johnson might play basketball again, though he has rejoined the team in a student-coaching role. Still the Gators looked strong in a 91-72 win at Vanderbilt on Wednesday to open SEC play.
LSU (6-1) looked just as good in a 77-54 win over Texas A&M on Tuesday as freshman guard Cameron Thomas continued his prolific start with a career-high 32 points. Four of the last five games between LSU and Florida have been decided by five points or less, and two of them have gone to overtime. Considering the expectations for both squads and their performances to date, this one could come down to the wire as well.
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- When: Saturday, Jan. 1, 2 p.m. ET
- Where: Exactech Arena in Gainesville, Florida
- TV: CBS | Live stream: CBSSports.com, CBS Sports App (Free)
- OTT: CBS Sports App (Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast)
LSU: Thomas earned the CBS Sports/USBWA Freshman of the Week on Tuesday and scored a new a career-high in his first conference game several hours later. The five-star prospect and No. 25 overall player in the 2020 recruiting class -- per the 247Sports Composite -- is the real deal. He was tied for third in the country in points per game at 24.1 as of Friday and has yet to score fewer than 16 in a contest this season. With a solid returning core of Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days, the Tigers were already expected to build on last year's 21-10 (12-6 SEC) season. But Thomas's prolific early contributions are taking expectations even higher.
Florida: The Gators decided to put things on hold after finishing the game at Florida State in which Johnson collapsed. In total, they went 18 days between games before returning to the court for Wednesday's win at Vanderbilt. Playing the Commodores provided the perfect opportunity for Florida to ramp things back up, and if there was any rust, it was not readily apparent as the Gators made 61.8% of their shots. Even coach Mike White was surprised at the performance, telling reporters that "I didn't quite see that coming." Though Johnson was the team's leading scorer, the guard trio of Tre Mann, Scottie Lewis and Noah Locke are each averaging in double figures and should make this team a force in the SEC.
Game prediction, pick
Florida might be due for a letdown after such a strong SEC debut vs. Vanderbilt following the 18-day layoff. LSU's defense has been susceptible at times early in the season, but it took a nice step forward by holding Texas A&M to just 54 points. Prediction: LSU 78, Florida 73
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