Florida vs. Xavier has tournament implications


Jordan Crawford is Xavier's leading scorer, averaging 19.7 points.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 12, 2010 at 6:42 p.m.

Florida coach Billy Donovan admitted a league mandate factored into his decision to schedule Xavier this season.

Facts

At a glance

Who: Florida Gators (17-7, 6-4 SEC) vs. Xavier Musketeers (16-7)
When: 6 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center, Gainesville
TV: ESPN
Gainesville radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Fr. 14.0 ppg, 3.0 apg
G Erving Walker 5-8 So. 13.2 ppg, 5.0 apg
F Chandler Parsons 6-9 Jr. 11.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg
F Alex Tyus 6-8 Jr. 12.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg
C Vernon Macklin 6-10 Jr. 9.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg

KEY RESERVES
F Dan Werner 6-8 Sr. 5.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg
G Ray Shipman 6-4 So. 2.7 ppg, 1.8 rpg
F Erik Murphy 6-9 Fr. 3.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg

XAVIER PROBABLE STARTERS
G Jordan Crawford 6-4 So. 19.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg
G Terrell Holloway 6-0 So. 11.0 ppg, 4.0 apg
F Dante Jackson 6-5 Jr. 6.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg
F Jamel McLean 6-8 Jr. 8.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg
C Jason Love 6-9 Sr. 11.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg

KEY RESERVES
G Mark Lyons 6-1 Fr. 7.9 ppg, 2.3 apg
G Brad Redford 6-0 So. 6.4 ppg, 0.8 rpg
C Kenny Frease 7-0 So. 5.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Taking care of the ball
Florida has committed an average of more than 15 turnovers (62) over its last four games. Sophomore point guard Erving Walker has committed 19 of those turnovers. The 5-foot-8 Walker, averaging 32.9 minutes in his first full season as a starter, could be hitting a wall. Look for Florida to continue to have Chandler Parsons and Kenny Boynton bring the ball up the court during stretches to help keep Walker fresh down the stretch.

2. The 3-point line
Led by sophomore guard Jordan Crawford, Xavier has a number of deep perimeter shooting threats. Crawford (41.7 percent), forward Dante Jackson (42.9 percent) and guard Brad Redford (44.9) are all shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Florida, meanwhile, is shooting just 31.3 percent from 3-point range this season. Florida could use a hot shooting game from the perimeter to take some of the scoring pressure off its frontcourt.

3. Stopping Crawford
Florida coach Billy Donovan calls Xavier sophomore guard Jordan Crawford, "a future NBA player." Crawford, the younger brother of former Kentucky guard Joe Crawford, is best known for dunking on Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James at James' camp lastsummer (officials at Nike later that night confiscated the video.) Crawford can score both from 3-point range and driving to the basket, presenting a difficult test for Florida's improved defense.

THREE QUESTIONS
1. Can Florida do a better job taking care of the basketball after committing 20 turnovers against South Carolina?

2. Can the Gators keep Xavier sophomore guard Jordan Crawford in check?

3. Can the Gators limit Xavier from the 3-point line and make some shots from beyond the arc?

Go to Gatorsports.com after the game to read Kevin Brockway's answers.

It turns out, today's non-conference game against the Musketeers could play an important role in determining UF's NCAA Tournament hopes.

Florida hasn't played a non-conference opponent during the Southeastern Conference schedule since facing New Orleans on Feb. 17, 2003. But Donovan said UF's nine days off for exams combined with the O'Connell Center hosting the NCAA Volleyball Tournament regionals last December made finding dates before SEC play difficult.

"I'm excited that we're playing them because it's a good team," Donovan said. "It's just like a league game, basically, and instead of us having an off week. I'd prefer having a game because I think sometimes an off week can take you out of a rhythm and a flow of games coming."

During last spring's SEC meetings, commissioner Mike Slive delivered a stern message to league coaches to improve their non-conference schedules. Florida responded with a non-conference schedule this season that included Michigan State, Florida State, Richmond, Syracuse, Rutgers and North Carolina State.

As a result, Florida's RPI remains NCAA Tournament-worthy (48) despite a 6-4 record in SEC play. A win against Xavier (27 RPI) would give Florida a boost heading into the home stretch of the regular season. As part of a home-and-home series, Florida will play at Xavier next season.

"There was definitely a knee-jerk reaction in our league in the spring meetings because without the win by Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament, we would have only had two teams in the NCAA Tournament (last season)," Donovan said. "And I think that you know if you look at it traditionally the SEC at least since I've been here, we've had five or six teams every year."

The perception of the league is different this season. Florida knocked off Michigan State and Florida State last November. Kentucky has posted wins over Louisville, Connecticut and North Carolina. And Tennessee topped both Kansas and Memphis.

"The league has performed better outside our league," Donovan said. "And this is an opportunity for us against a team like Xavier that's had an enormous amount of success, a great program. They've been good all year long."

Donovan is concerned about Xavier's balance. The Musketeers are shooting 39.4 percent from 3-point range and have enough big bodies down low to create problems for Florida inside. Xavier starting center Jason Love (6-foot-9, 265 pounds) and power forward Jamel McLean (6-8, 235 pounds) combine to create a formidable frontcourt. Seven-footer Kenny Frease comes off the bench.

"They have a good combination of some guys they can throw the ball into inside, and they are also a terrific transition team where they will take a lot of 3s on the break," Donovan said. "So I think defending the 3-point line will be critical, rebounding will be critical and then coming off the South Carolina game, our ability to take care of the basketball and make good decisions will be critical."

Florida committed 20 turnovers and missed 13 free-throws in its 77-71 loss at South Carolina.

"We can do a better job there," Donovan said.

Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons said the Gators are ready for another physical battle up front. In their last home game, the Gators held Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado in check in a 69-62 win.

Parsons (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Alex Tyus (11 points, 15 rebounds) posted double-doubles in the South Carolina loss.

"Our frontcourt has really stepped up," Parsons said. "We played against the best shot-blocker ever in college basketball and our front guys have been doing a good job. Alex has been rebounding the basketball like crazy, so I mean, I don't think we're worried about it. We just have to get familiar with their personnel and have an understanding what they are going to do."

1999-2000 team to be honored

Florida will honor the 10-year anniversary of its 1999-2000 Final Four team with a video tribute before the start of tonight's game. The first 10,000 fans attending the game also will receive commemorative posters.

Because of the number of former players still playing in the NBA (Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Matt Bonner) and overseas, Florida could not get players to come back for a ceremony.

Donovan said it's hard to believe it's been 10 years since he coached the Gators to the 2000 NCAA Finals. Florida finished the season 29-8, losing to Michigan State 89-76 in the NCAA title game.

"It was a fun group to coach," Donovan said.

Donovan made it a point to mention the contributions of Teddy Dupay and Major Parker, who both had legal problems since leaving UF but have managed to get their lives back together. Parker pleaded guilty to cocaine possession charges in 2003 and successfully completed probation while cooperating with authorities. Dupay served 30-day sentence last fall after pleading guilty to charges of aggravated assault after a domestic dispute with a former girlfriend.

"They were a big part of that team and I really appreciate and respect how hard they worked," Donovan said. "Obviously, we had a really, really deep team. Mike Miller and Donnell Harvey and Matt Bonner and Brent Wright and Haslem, it was a terrifically talented team that was very young that really kind of maybe pieced things together at the end of the year. There were some ups and downs with that team but they really pieced it together. Obviously we're not even talking about that team if Mike Miller doesn't make a runner against Butler in the first round."

Parsons said he was a huge fan of Miller growing up and that Miller was a big reason why he decided to come to Florida. Parsons said he might tie his hair like Miller does as a tribute to the former star of the 1999-2000 team.

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