UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Florida wary of SEC Tournament's upset potential
Published: Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 9:41 p.m.
ATLANTA — Through an 18-game schedule, Florida proved it was the dominant team in the Southeastern Conference.
Who: No. 1 Florida Gators (29-2, 18-0 SEC) vs. Missouri Tigers (22-10, 10-9)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
But in a tournament setting, dreams can be crushed by just one shot, one bad pass or even a missed box out.
No. 1 Florida will begin postseason play Friday against Missouri in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals aware of the fickle nature of conference tournament play. On Thursday, for example, top seed Villanova was knocked out of its opening game in the Big East Tournament with a 64-63 loss to Seton Hall on a buzzer-beating shot by guard Sterling Gibbs.
“The most important thing to start off is to get our mindset back to that we're back at the bottom of the path,” Florida senior center Patric Young said.
While a loss in the SEC Tournament wouldn't be as devastating as one in the NCAA Tournament, it would still raise questions about UF's postseason moxie after three previous seasons that ended in the Elite Eight. The Gators haven't won the SEC Tournament since 2007.
“It's very important,” Florida senior forward Casey Prather said, when asked about winning the SEC Tournament. “We've got to keep pushing in order to get better. But I feel like as long as we continue to stay on the path we're going, then we'll have no trouble.”
Before even arriving in Atlanta, the Gators received a break. Florida will take a 23-game winning streak into a matchup with a Missouri team that needed double overtime to beat Texas A&M 91-83 on Thursday. But Missouri senior guard Earnest Ross said the Tigers won't be lacking energy for a chance to earn a statement win for NCAA Tournament hopes.
“They're the No. 1 team in the country, and for any team that's not hyped to play that, something has to be wrong,” Ross said. “For us to go out there and play against them is a great opportunity for us to showcase what we do best.”
Florida and Missouri only played once in the regular season, with the Gators beating the Tigers 68-58 at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville. Missouri led 28-25 at halftime, but couldn't sustain the upset bid for the full 40 minutes. Florida held the Tigers to just 36.7 percent shooting in the second half and 39.6 percent for the game.
“There was about a three- or four-minute stretch there where the game got away from us,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “(Michael) Frazier made three 3(-pointers), and we didn't continue to score.
“We've got to have a 40-minute gameplan against them. They're the best team in the country. We're the only team in the country that's got this opportunity tomorrow, so we've got to look forward to it.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan is wary of the challenges that Missouri can present. Starting guards Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Ross combined to score 62 of Missouri's 91 points in the win over Texas A&M.
“Those three guys are as good of scorers as there is,” Donovan said.
Florida took three full days of practice to prepare for the Missouri matchup. A few weeks ago, Donovan alluded to the extra practice as an opportunity for the Gators to continue to grow heading into the postseason.
“We're trying to shore up those areas where we can get better at as a team,” Donovan said. “This time of year, I never go into the tournament saying 'OK, we've got to practice here on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday because we could be playing on Sunday.' All we get is one game. We've got to worry about the next game if we're fortunate enough to move on past that.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 12.9 ppg, 3.9 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr 14.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg
MISSOURI PROBABLE STARTERS
G Jabari Brown 6-5 Jr. 19.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg
G Jordan Clarkson 6-4 Jr. 18.1 ppg, 3.5 apg
G Earnest Ross 6-5 Sr. 13.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg
F Johnathan Williams III 6-9 Fr. 5.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg
C Keanau Post 6-11 Jr. 1.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg
Notes: Florida is 38-45 all-time at the SEC Tournament and 23-14 in SEC Tournament play under Billy Donovan. In his 18th season at UF, Donovan has led the Gators to three SEC Tournament titles (2005, 2006, 2007). The Gators also made the SEC Tournament finals under Donovan in 2004, 2011 and 2013. … Florida's senior class has won 55 career regular-season games, most for any SEC team over a four-year period (Kentucky is next with 50). … Florida senior forward Patric Young is just the fourth Gator under Donovan with more than 1,200 points and 800 rebounds, joining Udonis Haslem, David Lee and Chandler Parsons. … Florida enters its matchup with Missouri first in the SEC and fifth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 58.5 points per game. … Missouri coach Frank Haith is 2-4 all-time against Donovan. Haith faced Donovan three times when he coached at Miami, posting a 1-2 record there. … Missouri sophomore Ryan Rosburg came off the bench but played the majority of the game at center in the Tigers' 91-83 double-overtime win Thursday against Texas A&M. Rosburg finished with six points, one rebound and two assists against the Aggies. … Since 1983-84, Missouri is 4-9 vs. No. 1 ranked teams.
Three things to watch
1. Containing Brown
Missouri junior guard Jabari Brown has emerged as one of the top scorers in the SEC this season. Brown leads the SEC in scoring at 19.7 per game and poured in 26 before fouling out in Missouri's 91-83 double-overtime win. Brown is shooting 41.7 percent from 3-point range this season, but has been equally effective on drives to the basket. Look for Florida to take away the 3-point shot from Brown and make him drive. The Gators held Brown to 15 points (and three 3-pointers) in UF's 68-58 win over Missouri at the O'Connell Center on Feb. 4.
2. Florida's press
Missouri is coming off a double-overtime win against Texas A&M that taxed its starters and tested its young bench. Look for the Gators to press early and often to get the game going up and down the floor. Florida scored 12 points off 12 Missouri turnovers in the first meeting between the two teams.
3. Florida's bench
With Arkansas knocked out by South Carolina on Thursday afternoon, the No. 1 Gators are the deepest team remaining in the SEC Tournament. With the prospect of playing three games in three days, don't be surprised to see the Gators display that depth against Missouri. Led by sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith, the SEC's sixth man of the year, the Gators have averaged 22.5 points off the bench over their last four games. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill is coming off his best game of the season against Kentucky (eight points, seven assists), while freshman forward Chris Walker appears more comfortable with what Florida is running both offensively and defensively. Including sophomore swingman DeVon Walker, Florida's rotation is nine scholarship players deep, and there's little dropoff from 1-9.