UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Gators open SEC slate with upredictable Gamecocks
Published: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 8:06 p.m.
Florida opens Southeastern Conference play Wednesday at the O'Connell Center against a puzzling South Carolina team.
Who: No. 10 Florida Gators (11-2) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (7-6)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center, Gainesville
TV: CST (Ch. 259, Cox Cable, Gainesville)
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
At its best, South Carolina played No. 7 Baylor to the buzzer in a 66-64 road loss and beat Saint Mary's 78-71 in Hawaii.
At its worst, South Carolina lost to both Manhattan and South Carolina Upstate at home in December.
The No. 10 Gators (11-2) need to be prepared for a 7-6 South Carolina team capable of rising to the occasion against a ranked team. Second-year South Carolina coach Frank Martin has brought in new pieces to try to fit a running, pressing style. South Carolina starts three freshmen and added Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson as an experienced backcourt player to come off the bench.
“Frank (Martin) has a good system and they're going to play a certain way,” Donovan said. “They're going to play to an identity that he wants his team to play to. They're going to rebound the ball very well. They're going to defend very well. The biggest difference from last year to this year for them is the schedule, but their personnel is totally different. The guys who absorbed the majority of minutes last year for them are not there really anymore.”
Last season, Florida embarrassed South Carolina in a 75-36 win, holding the Gamecocks to just 10 points in the first half. Florida's press smothered South Carolina as the Gamecocks struggled just to get the ball past midcourt.
“We're a different team this year,” Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II said. “They're a different team obviously. It's going to be a fight. We know that. We're going to have come in prepared and focused and play it like any other game.”
South Carolina is coming into the O'Connell Center with some confidence, riding a four-game win streak that has included a pair of victories over Akron.
“They have some very good young players,” Donovan said. “Like anything else, when you're playing a lot of freshmen and younger guys, there are going to be some growing pains and some ups and downs. That's going to be a part of their development and growth.”
Florida is coming into league play tested, with an 11-2 record that has included wins over Kansas, Memphis and Florida State and close losses on the road against Wisconsin and Connecticut. According to CBSSports.com, Florida enters its SEC schedule with an RPI of 13 and a strength of schedule ranked 36th in the nation.
“We've done a good job up until this point in time. I'm pleased with our team, but we need to get better. We need to continue to improve,” Donovan said. “It's a long season and certainly when you start this part of your conference, there's gonna be somewhat familiarity between teams. It's a nine-week grind, every single week you're playing two, sometimes three games.”
With a win tonight, Florida can also match its school record for consecutive home wins (24). The Gators have won 23 straight at home, a streak that started with an 84-35 win over Alabama State to open the 2012-13 season. Florida needed to rally from four-points down in the second half of its last game Saturday at the O'Connell Center against Richmond to keep the streak alive.
“We've played, I think, pretty well at home, but I think like anything else, when you're competing at home, you can't have a level of complacency because you're at home,” Donovan said. “You've got to understand that when you line up and play, especially when you get in league play, you're going to have to play well.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 11.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 11.8 ppg, 4.0 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr. 17.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 4.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg
SOUTH CAROLINA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Brenton Williams 5-11 Sr. 11.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg
G Duane Notice 6-2 Fr. 6.7 ppg, 2.9 apg
G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Fr. 10.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg
F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 So. 6.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg
F Demetrius Henry 6-9 Fr. 7.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg
Notes: Florida leads the all-time series with South Carolina 40-22 and is 24-11 vs. the Gamecocks under Billy Donovan. … Florida is 12-5 in SEC openers under Donovan and 8-0 in SEC openers at home. … Florida has outrebounded its last four opponents (Memphis, Fresno State, Savannah State, Richmond) by a combined margin of plus-17, best in the country since Dec. 7. … Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith has been an effective sixth man off the bench, averaging 10.1 points and 7.7 rebounds. Finney-Smith had a season-high 13 rebounds against Richmond. … Senior forward Casey Prather has scored in double figures in all 13 of UF's games this season and is 10th in the SEC in scoring at 17.3 points per game. … South Carolina is third in the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage at 36.5 percent. … South Carolina senior guard Brenton Williams, a transfer from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, leads the Gamecocks in scoring at 11.2 ppg. … Former South Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington, a two-way standout in football and basketball, has decided to skip his senior basketball season with the Gamecocks to prepare for the NFL draft. Ellington scored 23 points against the Gators as a freshman when South Carolina upset Florida 72-69 in 2011 at the O'Connell Center.
Three things to watch
1. Frazier's shooting
Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II said he didn't even know he was leading the Southeastern Conference in 3-point shooting. Frazier is at 49.3 percent from beyond the arc (33 of 67) and hit some big ones in UF's 67-58 win over Richmond. “Teams obviously are going to see that and try to take me out of the game,” Frazier said. “But we're going to have to do a good job of finding our other options and making use of everybody else on the team.”
2. Taking care of the ball
Florida has finished with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in three of its last four games, a statistic not lost on UF coach Billy Donovan. During the stretch, Florida's assist-to-turnover ratio is 46 to 55. Other than point guards Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill, everyone else on UF's roster currently has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. “That to me is very, very disappointing, especially when you talk about having some older guys,” Donovan said. South Carolina will bring pressure from time to time and is a scrappy enough team to take advantage of UF's mistakes.
3. Free-throw shooting
At this point, Florida is what is at the free-throw line. After going 10 of 19 from the free-throw line against Richmond, including 2 of 8 in the final minute, Florida dropped to 65.7 percent for the season, 11th in the SEC. South Carolina is nearly as bad from the line at 69.8 percent. The Gators should get fouled a lot because they have an advantage up front, but Florida needs to make South Carolina pay by converting at the line.