UF faces tough 3-game stretch of non-SEC foes
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 11:58 p.m.
When Florida put together its 2012-13 non-conference schedule, it didn’t leave much room for error.
The No. 7 Gators (5-0) will begin the toughest three-game stretch of their non-conference games on Thursday night at the O’Connell Center against Marquette. After the SEC-Big East Challenge game against Marquette, Florida will play back-to-back road games at Florida State (Dec. 5) and at No. 9 Arizona (Dec. 15).
“It’s a time for us to find out what we’re really made out of against some really talented teams, tough competition,” Florida junior center Patric Young said. “It gives us an opportunity to see how we are doing so far in the season, and hopefully come out on top.”
Florida has strengthened its non-conference schedule since narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and 2009. In both seasons, Florida had 20 or more wins during the regular seasons, but missed the tournament due to its schedule strength.
With SEC expansion and the increase to 18 conference games this season, Florida coach Billy Donovan had just 13 games left to fill out the 2012-13 schedule.
“You really get caught trying to jam-pack a non-conference schedule and then you get caught with teams trying to work dates out,” Donovan said. “So we get caught playing games maybe like right now, where you have Marquette, Florida State and Arizona right in a row. That’s what is going to happen when you play the kind of non-conference schedule we’re playing.”
Donovan said he’s noticed the benefits of playing a tougher non-conference schedule the past three seasons. Florida has made three straight NCAA Tournaments and back-to-back Elite Eight runs.
“It’s really challenging,” Donovan said. “I think in November we’re getting an opportunity, one, to get better and, two, to find out a lot more about ourselves. We’re being in challenged in a lot of different ways.
“I think we’re getting prepared to go into the SEC. I think after November and December are done with, we’ll look at our non-conference schedule and we’ll probably say there isn’t a style or system or situation that we haven’t really had a chance to get exposed to. But, clearly, I think as it relates to most schools across the country, it will be one of the more challenging non-conference schedules in the country.”
Florida has breezed through its first five games, winning by an average margin of 23.8 points.
“Either we’re just playing at a high level right now, or other teams just haven’t matched our intensity or energy,” Young said. “We’ll see. We haven’t really been down or had to face adversity in games that we’ve played, not saying the teams that we faced haven’t been talented. We’ve just done a really good job playing our game.
Regardless, Donovan said that there is room for the Gators to improve, even after posting convincing wins against Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee State and UCF. Donovan was concerned with Florida’s dropoff in defensive intensity after UCF started the second half of its game with an 11-0 run against the Gators. Also, Donovan would like to see the Gators improve their assist-to-turnover ratio, which is nearly 1-to-1. Florida has averaged 13 assists per game to 12.8 turnovers per game.
“I’d like to see us have more assists than we have right now as a team,” Donovan said. “I think we’re averaging right now about 13 a game, traditionally here we have been at least the SEC leaders in assists for most years. We want to be in that top echelon.”
Turnovers have been an issue on and off this season, with starters Young, Will Yeguete and Mike Rosario averaging more than two turnovers per game.
“Anytime you give up the ball, it’s affecting our defensive efficiency as well as our offensive efficiency,” Young said. “A turnover is not even getting a shot up. Coach Donovan hates that. It drives coaches crazy. We’ve just got to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
FREE THROWS: Donovan said he has no plans to make changes in the starting lineup, even after junior guard Scottie Wilbekin’s 17 point, 8 assist game off the bench against UCF. Donovan praised the steady play of Will Yeguete at small forward and is comfortable with playing a bigger frontline. As for Wilbekin replacing Rosario as a starter, Donovan said: “No not right now. Mike’s attitude has been really good. He’s worked really, really hard. I think he’s doing the things I’m asking him to do. Clearly, I think he’s capable of shooting the ball better and I think he’s capable of taking care of the ball better but the one thing that’s kept him on the floor is he’s really made a personal investment to try to be better defensively.” … Donovan said junior forward Casey Prather, recovering from post-concussion symptoms, is wearing boxing headgear in practice. “It’s affected his vision in practice,” Donovan said. “I think he’s having a hard time seeing, but I think he understands to get hit again, take a fall or to have another setback we have to do some things to be somewhat precautionary to help him.” Prather had 8 points, 4 rebounds and a blocked shot in his season debut against UCF. “It’s going to help him when it comes to games because it makes him kind of (have) tunnel vision and he’ll really have to work on keeping his head on a swivel,” Young said. “So when he has to take it off on the games, hopefully that will help him fly around on defense.”
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