Gators’ top-ranked non-conference schedule continues at undefeated Butler

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Florida forward Keyontae Johnson (11) blocks Butler guard Kamar Baldwin’s shot during last December’s game in the O'Connell Center. [File]
Although conference play is a month away, the schedule isn’t about to get any easier for the Florida men’s basketball team.
UF’s No. 1-ranked non-conference schedule continues at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, at noon today when Florida takes on No. 24 Butler, a team the Gators are rather familiar with as of late.
Saturday’s tip-off marks the second game of a home-and-home back-to-back, with Florida claiming a 77-43 win in Gainesville last season — although it’s the third match-up in the last year between the programs.
The Gators and Bulldogs (8-0) first battled in last season’s Battle 4 Atlantis invitational as Butler secured a 61-54 win in Nassau — a result more indicative of the trajectory of UF’s 2018-19 season.
Now, Florida will look to spoil Butler’s hot start to the season — although that’s hardly the primary focus as of late for coach Mike White and the Gators.
At this point it’s about development, it’s about growth, White admitted.
“You’d like to win some, obviously. Great opportunity. This team is terrific,” he said.
With senior guard Kamar Baldwin leading the way with 17.5 points per game this season, the Bulldogs have jumped out to an undefeated start under third-year head coach LaVall Jordan — but it’s a record dating back to 2012 that presumably will present the biggest challenge to the Gators.
Butler has won 55 consecutive games at home against non-conference opponents, the longest such streak in the nation. Butler hasn’t lost to a out-of-league opponent since the 2012 College Basketball Invitational against Pittsburgh, and White expects the weekend’s challenge to be no different.
“Kamar Baldwin, I would argue there’s not a better guard in college basketball. He is fantastic any way you look at it: offensively, defensively, off of ball screens, isolations, ball security, wreaking havoc defensively, rebounding, posting, the way he’s shooting the ball efficiently from 3. He’s really good,” White said. “The environment’s going to be off the charts. This is a team that’s a legitimate top-20 team, going to be a tournament team. As good defensively as any team in the country. We better go up there and space, and execute, and cut, and share it, or points are going to be very hard to come by.”
Which speaks to why White is focused on UF’s internal growth rather than the opposition; with five freshmen still finding their footing, the Gators are more concerned with establishing an offensive identity than with spoiling the Bulldogs’ streak. Considering there’s just four games remaining before SEC play, the Gators realize they must focus on improvement for the sake of the team’s long-term potential.
“I do like that we have a bunch of time to practice and get better over this next month. That said, I would have liked that in November, as well. I would have liked 12 cupcakes. Twelve guaranteed games at home. But then we’d be saying, ‘Well, we’re not really getting any better.’ It just all depends on how you look at it. It’s probably a decent mix of high-level teams, very difficult challenges, neutral sites, road games, some home games," White said. “I wish we had a little bit more time to work and concentrate on ourselves this past month, but we’ll get that this little phase of the season.”

Today
Who: Florida (6-2) vs. No. 24 Butler (8-0)
When: 12 p.m.
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
TV: FOX
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

Keyontae Johnson F 6-5  231 So. 13.0 ppg 6.4 rpg

Kerry Blackshear Jr. F 6-10 241 Gr. 12.9 ppg 8.9 rpg 

Andrew Nembhard G 6-5  193 So. 10.0 ppg 5.3 apg

Noah Locke G 6-3  207 So. 8.4 ppg 1.9 3fg 

Scottie Lewis G 6-5  185 Fr. 8.5 ppg 4.3 rpg

Butler

Bryce Nze F 6-7  235 RJr.  12.1 ppg 7.5 rpg

Sean McDermott F 6-6  195 RSr.  10.4 ppg 4.8 rpg

Bryce Golden F 6-9  245 So.   8.9 ppg 4.3 rpg

Aaron Thompson G 6-2  190 Jr.   6.1 ppg 3.0 rpg

Kamar Baldwin G 6-1  190 Sr.   17.5 ppg 4.6 rpg

Notes: The teams have met five times previously, with UF holding a 3-2 all-time edge, but Saturday marks the first time on Butler’s home court … Florida has been outstanding defensively, holding its eight opponents to 67 or fewer points. The Gators’ defense ranks 25th nationally in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency … Florida’s outside shooting took some time to hit its stride early this season, but the Gators shot .407 (24-for-59) from long range at the Charleston Classic, including a 10-for-19 performance in the semifinal win vs. Miami. … Butler’s Kamar Baldwin, Bryce Nze and Sean McDermott have combined to account for 56 percent of the team’s scoring and have scored 58 percent of all Bulldogs points over the last five games. … Butler has won its last five home games, scoring an average of 74.2 points while giving up 53.4.