Florida faces formidable test in Vols' frontcourt
Published: Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 8:41 p.m.
Florida has managed to hold its own against most starting frontlines throughout the season.
Who: No. 6 Florida Gators (16-2, 5-0 SEC) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (12-6, 3-2 SEC)
When: 4 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center, Gainesville
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
The Gators (16-2, 5-0 SEC) rank fifth in the league in rebounding margin at plus-5.3 and scored 18 second-chance points in their 68-62 win Thursday night against Alabama.
But with the possible exception of Kansas, No. 6 Florida will face its most physical test so far this afternoon at the O'Connell Center against Tennessee. For the Gators to extend their season-best 10-game winning streak, they will need to keep the Vols off the boards.
Where's the beef? The answer is on UT's frontline. Starting forward Jarnell Stokes, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound junior, has posted 27 career double-doubles, the most among active SEC players. Beside Stokes is 6-foot-8, 260-pound Jeronne Maymon. Stokes is second in the SEC in rebounding with 9.7 rebounds per game, while Maymon is fourth at 8.2 rebounds per game.
Tennessee ranks second in the SEC and seventh in the nation in rebounding margin at plus-7.2. The Vols outrebounded Florida 41-31 and scored nine second-chance points in last season's 64-58 upset of the Gators at Thompson Boling-Arena.
“They're going to definitely be physical with us,” Florida senior forward Casey Prather said. “We've just got to do a good job putting bodies on each and every player during the game.”
It's not the ideal team for the Gators to face on less than a 48-hour turnaround. Complicating matters, UF's scheduled charter flight out of Tuscaloosa, Ala., late Thursday was canceled because the plane had mechanical issues. So Florida didn't arrive back to campus until noon Friday and had to push practice back until late Friday afternoon.
“In this league, when you play Thursday-Saturday, you are dealing with some of that,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “So instead of watching tape on the flight home and getting up this morning and coming in (the practice facility), it was a little bit different. We were able to stay there, get some work done last night, and then get some work done on the flight coming in and be able to sit down as a staff and prepare practice.”
Donovan said he didn't view the charter delay as a big deal. And the veteran UF coach has had success preparing the Gators for Thursday-Saturday turnarounds. Since the SEC restarted its Thursday schedule in 2010 as part of its new television deal with ESPN, the Gators are 16-1 in Thursday-Saturday games. The lone loss came in 2011 at Rupp Arena against Kentucky, when the Gators lost 76-68 after beating Georgia 71-62 the previous Thursday.
“The biggest thing you try to do is you've really got to get into the meat and potatoes of what needs to be done,” Donovan said. “Talk about concepts, talk about how you are going to defend things, what you want to do offensively and get them focused on the things they need to be productive in during the game.”
Donovan said he tends not to push his players physically in the Friday practices between the Thursday-Saturday games.
“It's certainly not a normal practice,” Donovan said. “We're playing at 4 o'clock, so that's a little bit different, too. You really just try to be efficient and you try to be organized, and understand schematically what you are doing and get that across to your guys.”
Prather said the canceled flight Thursday night provided him one benefit.
“I still got pretty good sleep,” Prather said. “I like sleeping in hotels better, they have nice beds. It wasn't too bad.”
Walker likely out
Donovan offered no update on the status of freshman forward Chris Walker for today's game against Tennessee.
The 6-foot-10 Walker has not been cleared for competition by the NCAA and has sat out nine straight games since joining UF in practice Dec. 14.
Earlier this week, ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas lashed out at the NCAA's handling of the case. Walker is sitting out because of allegations he accepted impermissible benefits from an AAU coach (Matt Ramker) that had ties to sports agent Andy Miller.
“One, I don't think it's any of the NCAA's business,” Bilas told Florida Today's David Jones. “But even if it is, it's taken way too long. At some point you have to say, 'You know what? We don't have it. And until we do, the kid can play.' They've got a clock ticking and the NCAA kind of tends to look at from their own perspective in that, we don't want somebody else to run out the clock while we investigate. … At some point you've got to say, you know the delay is unreasonable. It's hurt the kid, it's hurt the school and it's just wrong.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 12.5 ppg, 3.6 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr 17.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg
TENNESSEE PROBABLE STARTERS
G Josh Richardson 6-6 Jr. 8.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg
G Antonio Barton 6-2 Sr. 8.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg
F Jordan McRae 6-6 Sr. 19.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg
F Jeronne Maymon 6-8 RSr. 11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg
C Jarnell Stokes 6-8 Jr. 13.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg
Notes: Florida will be looking to extend its school-record 25-game home winning streak today against the Volunteers. … The Gators are 52-72 all-time against Tennessee and 16-18 under Billy Donovan. …. Florida's 10-game winning streak is the 10th double-digit win mark in school history and ninth under Donovan. … The Gators are hitting 8.3 3-pointers per game over their last four games, well above their season average of 6.1 3-pointers per game. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II has made 14 3-pointers during that four-game span. … The Gators rank first in the SEC in scoring defense at 59.8 points allowed per game, while Tennessee ranks third, allowing 63.3 points per game. … Tennessee returns three starters from a team that finished 20-13 and lost in the first round of the NIT last season. … The Vols have played a challenging non-conference schedule with a win over Virginia and losses to Xavier, Wichita State and North Carolina State. … Starting Tennessee point guard Antonio Barton is a transfer from Memphis. Previous UT starting point guard Trae Golden transferred to Georgia Tech after being forced to withdraw from school due to academic issues.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Containing McRae
After bottling up Alabama point guard Trevor Releford in Thursday night's win over Alabama, Florida faces another tough test against a proven senior scorer. Tennessee guard Jordan McRae is coming off a 34-point game against Arkansas and ranks third in the SEC in scoring at 19.2 ppg. The 6-foot-6 McRae scored 27 points against the Gators last season and presented matchup problems because of his ability to score over UF's smaller guards. “He's a very efficient scorer because he can do it in a lot of different ways — he shoots 3s, he can make mid-range jump shots, he can post up some,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “There is really not an area of the floor where he has the ball where he's not a threat to score.” Donovan said the Gators need to do a good job on help defense and shadow McRae coming off screening actions. “I don't think, a guy like him, you (defend) with just one guy,” Donovan said. “It's got to be a collective effort.”
2. Florida's bench
Coming off less than a 48-hour turnaround, Florida's bench could play a big role against the Vols. Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith is averaging 10.5 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds off the bench, while freshman point guard Kasey Hill is averaging 6.8 points and 3.4 assists with an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly two-to-one (47-24). “In any game, you've got to be prepared to play your bench,” Donovan said. “Sometimes fouls, sometimes fatigue, those things kind of dictate how you go to your bench. But I would guess that we would try to use our entire team to the best of our ability.”
3. Florida's press
Look for Florida to throw some pressure defense at Tennessee early to see how the Vols respond. Tennessee has been solid taking care of the ball this season, ranking first in the SEC in fewest turnovers at just 10.7 per game. But with Tennessee senior point guard Antonio Barton making his first trip to the O'Connell Center, there's a chance for the Gators to try to rattle him into some mistakes.