Gators face tough test in Vandy
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 12:09 a.m.
Florida has started strong in the Southeastern Conference with two wins at home and a pair of comeback wins on the road.
WHO: No. 14 Vanderbilt at Florida
TIPOFF: 1 p.m.
SITE: O'Connell Center (12,000), Gainesville
TV: Fox 13
1. Thunder from Down Under
Vanderbilt freshman center A.J. Ogilvy, from Canberra, Australia, gives the Commodores a threat in the post, where he ranks among Southeastern Conference leaders in scoring (18.5 ppg) and rebounding (6.8). It will serve as another test for Florida sophomore center Marreese Speights, who is coming off two of the best games of his career. Look for Florida to help Speights defensively, similar to how they did in effectively containing Kentucky freshman center Patrick Patterson. "It has to be a group effort," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
2. Don't forget Shan
If it seems like Vanderbilt forward Shan Foster has been around forever, it's because the senior swing-man has started since his freshman season with the Commodores. Foster, a perennial All-SEC candidate, is making an early bid for league player of the year, leading the league in scoring (20.1 ppg) and 3-point percentage (48.1 percent). Foster can drive to the basket as well as shoot, making it a difficult challenge for Florida's perimeter defenders.
3. Ball movement
Florida and Vanderbilt are two of the most unselfish teams in the league. Vanderbilt is second in the league in assists at 18.8 per game and Florida is third at 17.6 per game. Florida will need to play balanced while stopping a Vanderbilt offense with scoring threats at every position.
4. Florida's press
Florida has continued to use the press to its advantage, and will likely apply pressure again to a Vanderbilt team that has turned the ball over a league-high 319 times this season. Vanderbilt has been as prone to turnovers facing half-court defenses as it has to facing full-court defenses. Still, look for Florida to press to push the tempo.
5. Defending the 3s
Florida allowed South Carolina to shoot 10-for-20 from 3-point range and it nearly cost the Gators the game. Like the South Carolina guard tandem of Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick, Vanderbilt has two excellent 3-point shooters in Foster and starting point guard Alex Gordon. The Gators might be better off conceding some points to Ogilvy inside, like it did to Ohio State center Greg Oden in the 2007 NCAA title game, in order to protect the 3-point line.
The Gators (17-3, 4-1 SEC) will get another chance to gauge their progress today when they host No. 14 Vanderbilt (17-2, 2-2) in a rare Sunday matinee.
Florida faces its highest-ranked opponent to date and just its second ranked opponent this season. The Gators fell 89-87 at No. 18 Mississippi for their only league loss, nearly coming back from a 16-point second-half deficit.
A win today would likely move Florida into the Top 25 next week for just the second time this season.
"It's a real good measuring stick because this is one of the best teams we've played and only the second ranked team," Florida freshman point guard Jai Lucas said. "So it's really going to be a great challenge for us."
"I don't know if I look at it as a measuring stick as much as I look at it like a different challenge right now," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We're playing against a team that without question is one of the best teams in the SEC and one of the best teams in the country. They've got a great inside-outside combination. They are playing very, very well. They started our league 15-0."
The inside-outside combination centers around a senior and a freshman. Vanderbilt senior forward Shan Foster leads the SEC in scoring at 20.1 points per game and is shooting a blistering 48.1 percent from 3-point range.
Inside, Vanderbilt freshman center A.J. Ogilvy is fifth in the SEC in scoring (18.5 ppg) and 11th in rebounding (6.8 rpg).
"He has maybe impacted Vanderbilt's team as much as any player that's come in as a freshman has impacted any team across the country," Donovan said.
Donovan is as concerned about Vanderbilt's supporting cast, which includes senior starters Alex Gordon and Ross Neltner and sophomore starting guard Jermaine Beal. In four SEC games, Beal has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 25 to three.
"They have answers at just about every spot on the floor," Donovan said. "Last year, we were able to do that, we had answers at just about every spot on the floor offensively. And I think this team created a lot of problems for teams because of their personnel."
Florida's five starters averaged double figures in scoring throughout their two-year reign as national champions. This year's team is playing as unselfish. The Gators are dishing 18.8 assists and four of the five starters have led the team in scoring at least once this season.
Florida also will get a chance to boost its current standing in the Ratings Percentage Index. With a 70 RPI, Florida is currently on the NCAA Tournament bubble with six weeks left in the regular season. Vanderbilt comes into the game with an RPI of 10.
Donovan did not want to speculate when asked about his team's current tournament chances. Florida entered this season with a string of nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
"I never really worry about that," Donovan said. "I'm much more concerned about the here and now. And I've always believed there's a long enough period of time in a league like the SEC that if you deserve to be in, you'll be in, if you don't, you're not.
"I don't think it's fair right now in the middle of January to say where we're at. If you win the rest of them, it's a dead issue. If you lose the rest of them, it's a dead issue."
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