Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats head down to Gainesville, Florida to take on the SEC East-leading Florida Gators. As we have discussed earlier, the magnitude of this game, at least for the Wildcats, is hard to overstate. In a word, it's a critical game, and Kentucky really needs a win here.
Let's look, as always, at the SEC standings and the comparison between Kentucky and Florida's season so far:
|4||South Carolina||13-7||4-3||Conf Away||1-3||0.25||3-1||0.75|
The Florida Gators have struggled somewhat since the '04's left back after the 2006-07 season. They have always been able to reach the post season, but last year was their first return to the Big Dance since they last won the whole enchilada. The Gators return last year's team pretty much intact, and have been a favorite all year long to win the SEC due to their combination of experience and talent.
The Gators are coming off a victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores in the O-dome earlier this week, 65-61 in overtime. The Gators have played a total of four overtime games this year, a remarkable number, and have managed to win three of them, two on the road. This Florida team is experienced and battle tested this year, even though their schedule has not been as tough as Kentucky's.
More after the jump.
Florida Gators Basketball Roster
|Adam Allen||14||F||Out for season with knee injury||222||6-8||junior|
|Kenny Boynton||1||G||Starter, 2nd leading scorer
|Vernon Macklin||32||F||Starter, 3rd leading scorer, 2nd leading rebounder, best OR%
|Kyle McClanahan||20||G||Rarely plays||185||6-1||junior|
|Erik Murphy||33||F||Major reserve
|Chandler Parsons||25||F||Starter, 38% 3pt shooter, leading rebounder, leading asst.
|Casey Prather||24||G||Minor reserve||195||6-6||freshman|
|Mike Rosario||3||G||Transfer from Rutgers, year in residence||180||6-3||junior|
|Alex Tyus||23||F||Starter, 3rd leading rebounder
|Erving Walker||11||G||Starter, leading scorer, 39% 3pt shooter
|Scottie Wilbekin||5||G||Major reserve||175||6-2||freshman|
|Will Yeguete||15||F||Minor reserve||210||6-7||freshman|
|Patric Young||4||F||Major reserve, 1st off the bench
The most significant new player for the Gators is Rivals 5* forward Patric Young, who will remind many of a slightly less polished Patrick Patterson with his size and physicality inside. Young has been seeing more and more time, and he is a very good, very strong young player with a huge upside.
Another player who is having perhaps a bigger impact than expected its sophomore forward Erik Murphy. Murphy is the leading Gator scorer off the bench, and has displayed an improving face up game. He also gets a decent number of rebounds/minute played.
As noted above, Adam Allen is out for they year for the Gators.
Kentucky has no known injury problems.
Four Factors Comparison
As you can see above, both teams shoot the ball very well, Kentucky slightly better on average. Both teams are good ballhandling teams, although Kentucky enjoys a slight edge there. Florida is a better offensive rebounding team, and Kentucky gets to the line better.
Aside from the importance of this game from a Kentucky standpoint, these two teams are very well matched. Kentucky is more talented and athletic, although not by a wide margin, and the Gators are experienced and talented themselves.
The question for this game is how well Kentucky handles Vernon Macklin. Macklin is the player who ends the most possessions for the Gators, which tells you that Florida loves to play the game through him. Macklin is a big, strong inside player with an excellent hook shot with both hands, and Kentucky will be hard pressed to defend him. Harrellson is strong enough to handle him, but the sheer number of touches Macklin is likely to get gives me concern about fouls. Fortunately for Kentucky, Macklin is rather foul-prone himself, and if Kentucky can get him on the bench it will really help their cause.
The bookend for Macklin is Alex Tyus. Tyus is not the strong workhorse that Macklin is, but he is very athletic and faces up very well. His range extends out to the arc, and even though he doesn't shoot it often, he has a propensity for making the three against Kentucky.
The other big matchup problem for Kentucky is Erving Walker. Walker is a volume shooter who can shoot the three and has a habit of making big shots. He is certainly unafraid to take any shot, no matter how unlikely or pressure-filled. Like Chris Warren, he is probably too quick for DeAndre Liggins and will be a tough matchup for Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb.
Where UK really has an advantage is Terrence Jones. Jones is far too quick for Macklin and too strong for Alex Tyus. This is a game where Jones really needs to take the ball aggressively to the rim while keeping in mind that Florida is very good at drawing charges. Jones will need to pull up in the paint and shoot floaters or dump it off to the guards or Harrellson if the defense turns to help. If Jones plays his cards right, Florida will really struggle with him.
Another advantage Kentucky has is the fact that Erving Walker is not a particularly good defender, and does not like to closely guard players. He is explosive with the ball in his hands, but oddly, he is not good at moving his feet on defense. Brandon Knight is his nightmare matchup, and Florida may well try to put the longer and Kenny Boynton on him, but that leaves Walker with the 6'6" DeAndre Liggins to contend with. It is a conundrum for them that the Wildcats will need to exploit.
Florida's biggest vulnerability is their lack of size in the back court, and Kentucky must exploit this weakness. Florida also plays very soft defensively, as is illustrated by the fact that they have the fewest fouls in the SEC and among the fewest in the NCAA at 341st. That's a good stat when you can play tough, aggressive defense, but Florida's defense is not that tough or aggressive. But the Gators are long, lean and athletic, and they have experience and talent, and the Gators can score -- they are currently 1st in the league in points per possession, considering only conference games.
This is a tough game for Kentucky, but they will be highly motivated in this one and the Gators, who don't need this game nearly as badly, might not be. Motivated or not, Kentucky desperately needs to shake off the gloom from their close loss to Ole Miss in Oxford and get this win.