Florida Gators vs. Texas A&M Aggies Pick & Prediction MARCH 16th 2024

A few weeks ago, Texas A&M was sitting on a five-game losing streak, and its NCAA Tournament hopes were considered trashed.

Now the Aggies have won five in a row and might be on the right side of the bubble even if they don’t beat Florida in the second semifinal of the Southeastern Conference tournament on Saturday afternoon in Nashville, Tenn.

Seventh-seeded Texas A&M’s 97-87 win over second-seeded Kentucky in the quarterfinals on Friday not only ruined the scalper market outside of Bridgestone Arena, which as usual was dominated by Wildcats fans, but it gave the Aggies (20-13) a second victory against Kentucky this season to add to a growing resume.

The Aggies made shots in this one that they had struggled to hit all season, going 11 of 26 (42.3 percent) from the 3-point arc and connecting on 46.4 percent overall from the field. They entered the game hitting 39.6 percent from the floor, which ranked 341st out of 351 Division I teams.

“When you lose five in a row, a lot of things are revealed,” Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said. “To be able to flip that to five wins in a row, it doesn’t take away the wins, but you’re probably in a different place in regards to the maturity of what we saw transpire during the five-game losing streak.”

Wade Taylor IV scored a game-high 32 points for Texas A&M on Friday, canning 6 of 14 shots from 3-point range, while Tyrece Radford had 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists. The two have been the Aggies’ top scorers this season at averages of 18.5 and 15.9 points per game, respectively.

While Texas A&M could use one more win to bolster its chances of an at-large NCAA bid, the sixth-seeded Gators (23-10) are considered a near lock. Their 102-88 win over No. 19-ranked and third-seeded Alabama late Friday night figures to enhance their seeding.

Florida beat the nation’s top-scoring team at its game, racing to a 48-33 halftime lead and closing out the Crimson Tide with excellent execution and shot-making. The Gators shot 50.8 percent from the field and converted 31 of 36 (86.1 percent) at the foul line.

Walter Clayton Jr. led five Gators in double figures with 23 points, going 11 of 11 on free throws. Second-year coach Todd Golden praised the work of 6-foot-10 forward Tyrese Samuel, who scored 18 points as an inside complement to guards Clayton and Zyon Pullin (19 points).

“He set the tone at the beginning of the second half with his work in the post,” Golden said of Samuel.

Florida owns a top-10 scoring offense at 85.4 points per game, thanks to Clayton (17.3 ppg), Pullin (15.6 ppg, 5.0 assists) and Samuel (14 ppg). The Gators also lead Division I in rebounding at 43.1 per game. Their ability on the boards will be tested by the Aggies, who rank third in the nation at 42.7 rebounds per game.

Golden acknowledged that the quick turnaround would cut into game preparation.

“Texas A&M plays such a distinct style,” he said. “We’ll have to battle like heck on the boards and take care of the ball.”

The Aggies eked out a 67-66 win over Florida on Feb. 3 in College Station, Texas, in the teams’ only meeting this season behind a game-high 26 points from Radford.

The winner of Saturday’s game will meet either fourth-seeded Auburn or ninth-seeded Mississippi State in the final on Sunday.

–Field Level Media

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