Florida's hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament hinge on tonight's game against Mississippi State.
GAINESVILLE -- Nothing more can be learned in practice. Nothing more can be learned in defeat. Nothing more will come of this season unless the Florida Gators find a way to win a road game tonight in Starkville, Miss. This is it.
Florida (21-8, 8-6 SEC ) plays at Mississippi State (17-12, 7-7) at 8 p.m. Win, defeat Mississippi State, and a glimmer of hope remains that the Gators can somehow wiggle their way into an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
[PICTURED, Dan Werner is pumped about playing Mississippi State! He went 0-6 against the Bulldogs last season.]
A loss would be the Gators' third in a row and fifth in their last seven games. That's a weak hand of poker, considering the Gators gambled away most of their chips on a bunch of cupcake non-conference games a loss to Georgia and a loss at home to Tennessee. Florida's RPI stands at 50, according to RealTimeRPI.com.
"There's no option but to win," said UF forward Chandler Parsons.
Florida has lost its last four road games but the Bulldogs are reeling themselves. Mississippi State is 1-5 in its last six games, including a 76-58 home loss to Auburn on Saturday.
"I'm nervous, yeah," Parsons said. "Everyone is nervous before a game, especially how big this game is, but we can't just play for the fans and play for the gym. We've just got to go in there and play our game."
Florida's game is limited. As Florida coach Billy Donovan likes to put it, this Gators' team doesn't have "much room for error." Finishing their easy shots, making free throws, staying out of foul trouble: These are the things Florida must do to win tonight.
[PICTURED, MSU's Jarvis Varnado had seven blocks against UF in 2008.]
The Gators could also stand to shore up their perimeter defense. Mississippi State starts four guards, which could be a problem if the Bulldogs get hot early from the outside. Expect plenty of minutes off the bench tonight for UF freshman small forward Ray Shipman.
In the paint, the match-up between Florida center Alex Tyus and Mississippi State forward Jarvis Varnado should be interesting. Varnado had 11 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks against the Gators last season, a 68-59 win at the O'Connell Center. Varnado (6-9, 210) leads the Bulldogs in scoring (13.1 ppg) and rebounding (9.1 rpg).
"You can't go away from [Varnado]," Tyus said. "It's a good challenge that I'm looking forward to."
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
F Dan Werner (6-8) 8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg
F Chandler Parsons (6-9) 10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg
C Alex Tyus (6-8) 12.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg
G Nick Calathes (6-6) 18.4 ppg, 6.4 apg
G Walter Hodge (6-0) 8.3 ppg, 2.3 apg
MISSISSIPPI STATE STARTERS
F Jarvis Varnado (6-9) 13.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg
G Ravern Johnson (6-7) 12.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Dee Bost (6-2) 11.5 ppg, 4.3 apg
G Barry Stewart (6-2) 11.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg
G Phil Turner (6-3) 8.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg