No. 16 Florida basketball vs. Middle Tenn. preview

Event: Global Sports Challenge
Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST

(16) FLORIDA GATORS MIDDLE TENN. BLUE RAIDERS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Kermit Davis
Record: 3-1 Record: 4-0
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Sun Belt
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

TV: Sun Sports (Larry Vettel, Bill Koss) [Channel Finder]
SiriusXM: 108/199 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: ESPN3.com [Blackout Map] | Mobile Video: None
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

Odds: Florida -12

PRE-GAME READING MATERIAL

» Notebook: Billy Donovan talks point guard situation, Will Yeguete’s explosiveness
» Notebook: Florida-Southern post-game report. Gators PG Kasey Hill suffers high-ankle sprain, G Dillon Graham (hips) ruled out for the season.
» The Fastbreak: Breaking down No. 14/16 Florida easing past Southern 67-53
» Story: Gators down to No. 14/16 in new top 25 polls

HISTORY / STATS / STREAKS

» Florida is 1-0 all-time against Middle Tennessee, defeating Thursday night’s opponent last season 66-45 in a neutral site game in Tampa, FL.
» The Gators are playing their third game in the last six days.
» UF is currently 3-0 in the Global Sports Challenge, an exempt tournament, with wins over North Florida, Arkansas-Little Rock and Southern. Thursday night’s game happens to be for the non-existent event title as MTSU is also 3-0 in the tournament.
» Florida is 7-1 against Sun Belt teams under Donovan.
» Middle Tennessee advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season but fell in the First Four to St. Mary’s.
» The Gators have won 18-straight games in the O’Dome dating back to the 2011-12 season as well as 19 consecutive non-conference home games.
» Florida is replacing its three leading scorers from 2012-13.
» UF is looking to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2006-07 after having its season end in the Elite Eight in each of the last three years.
» The Gators are now 4-3 against top-25 ranked opponents dating back to last season with all three losses coming away from its home court.
» Florida is 57-8 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding opponent under 71 points in a game.
» The Gators are 0-7 dating back to last season in games decided by single digits.
» Florida’s defense has started off allowing just 59.2 points per game through four contests, good for lowest in the SEC. Three-straight opponents have failed to reach 60 points against UF.
» Donovan is looking for his 16th consecutive 20-win season. The Gators have him ranked sixth all-time in that category behind only Dean Smith, Lute Olson, Mike Krzyzewski, Tubby Smith and Jim Boeheim.
» Donovan (418) enters the game 30 wins behind Dale Brown (448) for second-most in SEC history. He is currently the longest-tenured head basketball coach in the league.

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11/20: Donovan discusses Florida’s point guard situation, Yeguete’s explosiveness

Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Wednesday, one day before his team hosts the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Gainesville, FL at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

GETTING TO THE POINT

The high-ankle sprain suffered by freshman point guard Kasey Hill will leave the Gators without a floor general on Thursday (considering senior Scottie Wilbekin remains suspended, but Donovan is not worried about how it will impact the team.

“Sometimes guys think because they dribble the ball across half court and make an entry pass that means they’re a point guard.

“I’ve often felt like, to me, a point guard is somebody that has the ability and the wherewithal to make plays and make good decisions. In a lot of situations, you can have a lot of point guards on your team,” he explained.

In that respect, Donovan noted that both sophomore guard Michael Frazier II and redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith can fill in as ball handlers. Frazier has more experience with Florida’s offense, while Finney-Smith used to run the point in high school and occasionally for his AAU team.

“I think we have enough ball handling to initiate and start offense. I think we’ll be OK. I think if we are dealing with any pressure, hopefully utilize it as a chance to open up the floor and play fast. But certainly need to take care of the basketball and make good decisions,” he said. “But I do think we have enough ball handling. We don’t necessarily have a primary, pure point guard on our team at this point in time, but I do think we have enough handling and skill to be able to handle it.”

Continue Reading » 11/20: Donovan discusses Florida’s point guard situation, Yeguete’s explosiveness

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Florida dominates second half, beats MTSU 66-45

Turning up the intensity in the second half, No. 10 Florida Gators basketball (3-0) powered its way past the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (2-1) on Sunday afternoon, capturing a 66-45 victory at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, FL.

Junior forward Will Yeguete put together another strong performance for the Gators, leading the way with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds. He was complimented by senior guard Kenny Boynton, who scored 18 second-half points and finished with a team-high 20 on 5-of-12 shooting (3-for-8 from downtown).

Florida and Middle Tennessee traded hoops throughout the first half as both teams struggled shooting the ball and maintaining possession. Six-straight points by the Gators gave them a 28-22 advantage with 1:22 left, but UF missed three-of-four free throws down the stretch and led just 29-26 at the half.

Yeguete finished the first 20 minutes with 10 points and eight rebounds as junior center Patric Young sat for Florida with two early fouls. He was 4-for-6 from the field while the rest of the Gators were 7-for-21 early in the contest.

Florida opened the second half with renewed energy and an explosive 14-2 run – highlighted by an alley-oop from redshirt senior G Mike Rosario to junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin – that gave the Gators a 15-point lead with 11:40 to play.

Faced with a potential blowout, the Blue Raiders scored five-straight to cut their deficit to 10 points with six minutes to play.

Florida ensured that it got back on top quickly, however, as Boynton grabbed a rebound and engineered a fast break with a dish to Rosario. He followed that play up with three big treys and another layup down the stretch, providing the Gators with a game-high 23-point lead late in the contest.

UF outplayed MTSU in almost every area, winning the rebounding battle 31-23 and turnover margin 12-13 while committing 10 fewer fouls.

Florida will play its second of three games in six days when it hosts Savannah State on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The game will air live on Sun Sports or FOX Sports Florida.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Wilbekin played his first game of the season on Sunday after missing the first three games with a suspension for an unspecified reason. He was as remorseful when speaking with the media as he was when Donovan said the two had a conversation early in the week.

“I just learned, when you make mistakes, it catches up to you,” Wilbekin said. “You’ve got to move past it, now, it’s over and done with. I’ve got to focus on the rest of the season. … I just made mistakes, stuff you can’t do. I’m not going to do it anymore. … I’m not too much of a prideful guy, but it was really hard to see the team do great because it proves that, I’m not bigger than the team and no other player is bigger than the team. We can win without anyone on the team.”

» After attempting to shoot the lights out in the first half – and failing to do so – the Gators focused on putting the ball in the post and getting points on the board the traditional way. Florida succeeded to that end and also wound up hitting some open three-pointers late to pull ahead for the big victory.

“We really made a huge emphasis to say, OK, if they are going to put all that pressure out there, we’re left playing one-on-one in the post,” Donovan said. “I think we established that very, very early in the second half.”

» Boynton started slow, but his 18 second-half points gave him 20 for the game and also placed him sixth on Florida’s all-time scoring list just a few points ahead of Tampa native Dwayne Schintzius. Boynton’s 1,641 points put him 37 away from Stacey Poole (1,678), who is currently fifth on the all-time list.

“I think Kenny Boynton is going to go down in this program, forget about scoring, just from a winning standpoint as one of the better players to ever play here,” Donovan said after the game. “Before he got here we went to two NITs. Since we’ve gone to three straight NCAA Tournaments and two Elite Eights and Kenny has been a big part of that.”

» Though Wilbekin returned, junior F Casey Prather missed his fourth-straight contest after suffering a concussion in consecutive weeks during practice. Donovan said that Prather has “done pretty well on his baseline tests and is “in good shape” to potentially return this week.

“He’s not having any headaches right now, which is now the process of him going through working out, running, lifting, in practice with no contact, then being cleared. My guess right now if he would continue to go on this pace would be, not going to play Tuesday night but I think he has a great chance to be back on Friday [against UCF],” he said.

* Quotes courtesy of The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway.

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Donovan has confidence in Gators’ freshmen

The depth of No. 10 Florida Gators basketball has been tested early in the season, especially considering juniors point guard Scottie Wilbekin (suspension) and guard/forward Casey Prather (concussions) each missed the first three games. With only nine other eligible scholarship players on the roster, head coach Billy Donovan has been forced to rely on his four-member freshman class for quality minutes.

Florida’s freshmen each played 18-23 minutes in the season opener against Alabama State on Sunday, but only G Michael Frazier II saw more than five minutes in the team’s second game against No. 22 Wisconsin. He was on the court for 19 minutes.

Donovan attributed Frazier II’s ability to understand the level of competitiveness he needed to achieve from the get-go as a major reason that he was able to see more minutes than the rest of his classmates combined. He also thinks Frazier is physically capable of playing so many minutes and believes he has a great understand of what the Gators are doing on the floor at any given time.

That does not mean the coach was not worried about playing Frazier, especially when placing him on the court at the three instead of his natural position at the two.

“When we play him at the small forward spot, I was very concerned going into the year [if he could rebound effectively]. He’s done a pretty good job on the backboard for us,” Donovan said. “He’s been going in there and rebounding. I think he’s got to get better defensively guarding the basketball and understanding rotations, which most freshmen go through. I think clearly he’s a guy, when he’s on the floor, he’s able to stretch the defense for us with the way he shoots.”

Florida’s three other freshmen – PG Braxton Ogbueze, G Dillon Graham and G/F DeVon Walker – should increase their minutes as the season goes along even though Wilbekin is returning to the team Sunday and Prather should not be too far behind.

Donovan said Friday that he will be selective with how he plays the rest of the freshmen though he certainly believes each can contribute in his first season.

“It’s a lot for Braxton or any freshman to just come in without having a lot of older guys on the floor,” he said. “I’m probably a little bit sensitive of putting those guys in situations they can be successful. I have confidence in Braxton. I have confidence in all those guys. They’re great kids. They work hard. I think they’re going to be able to contribute. They still have a lot to learn, but they’re eager to learn and get better.”

UPCOMING GAME

The Gators are set to take on the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on Sunday in a neutral site game in Tampa, FL. Like Florida, Middle Tennessee is 2-0 to start the season, but Donovan cautioned Friday that he thinks the Blue Raiders are closer to a contender (along the lines of a Butler, VCU, Xavier or Murray State) than a run-of-the-mill mid-major team.

“A great challenge,” he said. “Sometimes people really look at leagues and they determine BCS, high-major, mid-major, low-major. I think that Middle Tennessee State here, the last couple of years, has been a high-major program. … They’ve got a lot of depth. They’re very, very well coached. … This is an unbelievable challenge for us and probably, maybe in some ways, a much more difficult challenge than playing Wisconsin because we’ve got a lot that we’ve got to get prepared for.”

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