Just as it did when the proposition for two other teams to play outdoors on the deck of a Navy war ship was made exactly one year ago year, the weather is expected to present a number of challenges for the No. 10 Florida Gators and Georgetown Hoyas when the programs square off on the USS Bataan in the Navy/Marine Corps Classic at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, FL on Friday.
The first concern is the wind, which is expected to be 3-5 mph at tip-off and provides an element that cannot be prepared for by practicing in a windless arena or gymnasium.
Florida head coach Billy Donovan noted Tuesday that his team will not change the way it plays for the game though he is cautioning his players to be smart with their decision making. He wants the Gators to focus on taking away easy baskets and grabbing loose balls (which he expects more of due to lower shooting percentages).
The positive for Florida is that the team has been looking to improve in those two areas all offseason and not specifically for its showdown with Georgetown.
“Obviously I think you’ve got to be smart what kind of shots we do take,” Donovan said. “I think we’ve been practicing a certain way for most of this time to get ready for our season. Both teams are having to deal with the elements outside, whether it’s very cold or windy. Whatever it may be, we’re both going to be dealing with it.”
Gators senior guard Kenny Boynton, a pure shooter who spends most of his time on the perimeter but is hoping to penetrate more this season, knows that the wind will be an issue but believes it will be secondary to the temperature.
“It definitely can impact shooting. Wind is a big factor. I heard it’s going to be 44 degrees. I never played in the cold, I can say that. We’ll see how it goes,” he said.
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The game will indeed be played with temperatures between 40-50 degrees. That will be a strange phenomenon for the six Florida natives expected to see playing time but will be just as unique for the three northerners that will see minutes as they spent their winters at home playing in heated gyms.
“There’s been some talk about putting heaters behind our benches and their benches,” explained Donovan on steps that can be taken to help the players from getting too cold. “How we try to keep our guys warm, maybe coming out of the game fully lathered up and then all of a sudden they’re sitting there, somebody gets in foul trouble and sits for eight minutes and tries to start the second half.
“There’s going to be some different situations I think all of us are going to be thrown into that maybe a little bit unique because you are playing outside and it may be really chilly out there. I also think, in the game, both teams are dealing with similar circumstances there.”
Jacksonville native and junior center Patric Young is not as concerned about the cold.
“We’ll get a good sweat, run some sprints. We’ll be fine,” he said. “Hopefully we won’t get too cold at halftime. We’ll probably do extra stuff to make sure guys are loose on the sidelines, ready to come in.”
Though the wind and cold are obvious concerns, Donovan noted that Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo brought up the possibility of condensation being an issue. Izzo’s team played in the inaugural Carrier Classic on Nov. 11, 2011 on the deck of the USS Vinson in San Diego, CA.
“The floor did get a little slick,” said Donovan referring to last year’s game. “I know the people in Jacksonville are working hard to make sure they deal with that if there’s a possibility that could be a problem in the game.”
In the end, no matter the conditions, the Navy/Marine Corps Classic on Friday will be a special game for everyone involved. It will be a memory that will last the players, coaches, those in attendance and fans watching around the world a lifetime.
“I think it’s a privilege for us to meet [the military members on the ship]. It’s a once in a lifetime thing. I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Boynton said. “It’s definitely a game we will never forget and no one will ever forget.”