It's all on the front line for UF hoops


The play of frontcourt seniors Alex Tyus, left, Vernon Macklin, center, and Chandler Parsons during a crucial stretch the next three weeks will decide UF's postseason fate.

Aaron Daye/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 12:25 a.m.

Pundits from throughout college basketball pegged Florida as Southeastern Conference favorites last October because of its all-senior frontcourt of three returning starters.

Facts

GATOR GAMEDAY

Who: No. 24 Florida Gators (15-4, 4-1 SEC) at Georgia Bulldogs (14-4, 3-2 SEC)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.
TV: ESPN
Gainesville Radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850

That front line will be tested tonight when the Gators begin a crucial stretch at Georgia. Florida, which returned to the AP Top 25 at No. 24 on Monday, plays five of its next six games against SEC East opponents.

For seniors Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin, time is running out.

“If you look at it,” Parsons said. “We've only got two months left.”

The legacy of the three seniors could hinge on how well the Gators play the next three weeks. Against Georgia, Florida will have its challenge guarding junior forwards Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. Thompkins, the SEC's preseason player of the year, is averaging 17.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Leslie, an athletic 6-foot-4 wing, is at 14.7 ppg and 7.1 rpg.

“Thompkins is as good as any frontcourt player in the country,” Donovan said. “He's terrific. Leslie is as good as any small forward in the country.”

Florida's front line starters have been inconsistent during the course of the season. After struggling to get points in the paint at Auburn, Florida established an inside presence early against Arkansas. Macklin and Tyus combined to score Florida's first 12 points.

Overall, Florida scored 42 points in the paint against the Razorbacks. Parsons also had a big night with a career-high 15 rebounds.

Donovan said he would like to see both Macklin and Tyus maintain their edge and focus when their shots aren't falling early in games.

“Can you play with a high intensity level when all the sudden maybe things are not going like you want them to go or think they should go?” Donovan asked, rhetorically. “There's a competitive spirit, there's a competitive maturity that you've got to have where you fight through difficult parts.”

Macklin, who made six of eight shots from the floor against Arkansas, agreed with his coach's assessment.

“We've just got to fight through it,” Macklin said. “We're not going to have a great night every night. So, I guess when everything is not going our way on offense, we've got to play even harder on defense because that's what you can control.”

Thompkins will present a difficult challenge for Florida because of his versatility. At 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, Thompkins has the size and strength to score in the post and an ability to step out and score from the perimeter. Thompkins is 9-33 from 3-point range this season.

“To me, he's like Rasheed Wallace,” Macklin said. “I think he plays just like that guy. He's really long. He might not be the fastest guy, but he's smart, he's crafty.”

After some early struggles on the boards in SEC play, Florida's rebounding has improved over its last two games. Florida out-rebounded Auburn and Arkansas by a combined margin of 76-62.

Macklin, Tyus and Parsons are averaging a combined 18.1 rebounds per game. But Florida will be facing a Georgia front line that's also done well in the boards, with a rebounding margin of plus-4.8.

“This is a great time to back it up,” Macklin said. “I think SEC front lines are pretty solid. I think the help with Patric (Young) and (Erik) Murphy getting back healthy, and Will (Yeguete) and those guys, can back us up also. As long as we can keep controlling what we can control we'll be fine. We're not worried about being the best frontcourt. We're worried about being the best team overall.”

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 So. 12.8 ppg, 2.7 apg

G Erving Walker 5-8 Jr. 13.7 ppg, 3.2 apg

F Chandler Parsons 6-9 Sr. 10.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg

F Alex Tyus 6-8 Sr. 9.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg

C Vernon Macklin 6-10 Sr. 10.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg

KEY RESERVES

F Patric Young 6-8 Fr. 3.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg

G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Fr. 2.1 ppg, 2.2 apg

F Erik Murphy 6-10 So. 5.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg

GEORGIA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Dustin Ware 5-11 Jr. 7.4 ppg, 3.8 apg

G Gerald Robinson 6-1 Jr. 14.1 ppg, 4.2 apg

G Travis Leslie 6-4 Jr. 14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg

F Trey Thompkins 6-10 Jr. 17.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg

F Jeremy Price 6-8 Sr. 8.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg

KEY RESERVES

F Chris Barnes 6-8 Sr. 3.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg

G Sherrard Brantley 6-2 So. 3.8 ppg, 0.8 rpg

F Connor Nolte 6-7 Jr. 2.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Robinson's speed

Georgia starting point guard Gerald Robinson Jr. has given the Bulldogs a different element with his speed and athletic ability. Robinson, a transfer from Tennessee State, has emerged as one of the fastest players with the ball in the SEC. "No one on our team is going to guard Robinson one-on-one or Travis Leslie one-on-one or Trey Thompkins one-on-one," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I think it's going to be a game for us, defensively, that we are going to have to provide some help in certain areas of the floor where help is needed."

2. Florida's bench

The Gators will be playing their third game in a six-day stretch tonight against Georgia. Point guard Erving Walker looked gassed in the quick two-day turnaround Saturday night against Arkansas, going 1-for-6 from the floor with his two 3-point attempts falling short. This could be a game where Florida will need more contributions from its bench, which played well Saturday night against Arkansas. Florida's bench combined for 22 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists against the Razorbacks. Freshman forward Casey Prather played one of his best games of the season against Arkansas and could be a factor off the bench guarding athletic Georgia forward Travis Leslie.

3. Road response

Florida is 4-0 on the road this season, though the Gators struggled in their last road game to beat Auburn 45-40. Florida can't afford to get off to a poor start and give the opposing crowd at Stegeman Coliseum some life. Florida proved in its overtime win at Tennessee that it was mature enough to handle adversity on the road. Let's see if the Gators can continue that trend at Georgia tonight.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. Can Florida get off to a good start and silence the crowd at Stegeman Coliseum?

2. Will Florida's experienced front line keep Georgia forwards Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins in check?

3. Can Florida get significant contributions from its bench?

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

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