Georgia’s game against Florida is huge for many reasons.
As of Friday, Florida is the third-ranked team in the RPI. A win over the Gators would be a signature win for a Georgia team looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.
A win over Florida would give Georgia a fourth win SEC play and a third conference victory on the road. By no means is Saturday’s matchup of the must-win variety. But it sure would go a long way in establishing Georgia as one of the SEC teams at the forefront of the conference this season.
That stated, it won’t be easy against an opponent riding a six-game winning streak.
“There’s a reason Florida’s having the year they’re having,” head coach Mark Fox said. “They’re very, very complete. For us to win, we have to be very complete ourselves.”
If the aforementioned isn’t motivating enough, Georgia has yet to defeat Florida at the O’Connell Center since 2002. Fox hasn’t won at the O’Connell Center since taking the reins of the Georgia basketball program in 2009 and is only 3-9 overall against the Gators.
The O’Connell Center underwent some renovations over the past year, with Florida only having three true home games so far this season. Therefore, there’s also a bit of an unknown in terms of what kind of environment to expect since the sight lines Georgia was accustomed to might have changed.
Regardless, the city of Gainesville hasn’t been too kind to Georgia through the years when it has visited, and the Gators will try and keep it that way this time too.
“We know they’ll have a great crowd, they always have and it’s tough,” Fox said. “But really what we address with our players is to play well, and play the right way. That’s what we’ll focus on.”
Win or lose, Georgia’s RPI could still rise or stay around the same area — as of Friday, the Bulldogs are No. 37 — thanks to a bump in strength of schedule by playing Florida.
Florida will be the best team Georgia’s played since going against Kansas in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic championship game in Kansas City, Missouri. The Bulldogs do have some confidence away from home heading into this game, considering they’ve won two away from Athens in SEC play.
Georgia first went into Auburn and rallied from a double-digit deficit to win by 12. The Bulldogs then defeated Mississippi by 22 at The Pavilion on Wednesday. Grabbing two early SEC road wins has been a boost for the Bulldogs.
“We feel really good as a team,” Georgia forward Yante Maten said. “Any road win helps the demeanor. The more we focus on Florida the next couple of days, I think we can get the win. We just got to make sure we play to our strengths and our advantages, and take care of the ball.”
If Georgia can continue to be successful on the road, its NCAA Tournament chances will only improve. The last time the Bulldogs made the tournament, during the 2014-15 season, they went 8-4 on the road, which was key, considering they didn’t pick up a top-50 win.
The Bulldogs already have one top-50 victory this year, which came against Mississippi, and a 3-2 overall road record.
“I do think we’ve had a lot of true road games,” Fox said. “That’s probably, in the grand scheme of things, helped our team. But we have to play at a level to beat a really good team. Florida has another really good team and they’re playing really well. Our focus has to be on the things that will give us a chance to do that.”
If Georgia can continue to play well on the road and hold court at home, it could find itself in a good position when March rolls around. Of course, picking up a signature win over Florida would certainly help the Bulldogs’ case too.
“We need to make sure we’re consistent at home, getting wins there,” Maten said. “And we want to pick up as many as we can on the road and put us in a great spot.”