Florida @ Alabama: Game Preview

The Crimson Tide basketball team will host the Florida Gators on Thursday night in Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. Both teams are trying to break out of the middle of the pack in the SEC following heartbreaking one-point road losses to rival opponents over the weekend.

Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. local time and a few tickets remain on sale here. The game will be televised on ESPNU. Those without access to ESPNU can watch the game online at ESPN360.com.

Alabama is attempting to bounce back from a very disappointing 58-57 loss at Auburn on Saturday. The Tide is now 13-8 on the season and 3-4 in SEC play. A win at home over Florida could get the Tide back to .500 in league play and help the team get back on track once again following the letdown over the weekend.

Florida is likewise trying to bounce back from a 61-60 loss at Tennessee on Sunday. The Gators are now 15-6 on the season and 4-3 in SEC play. Coach Billy Donovan is attempting to bring his team back to the NCAA tournament after a surprising two-year hiatus following their back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Florida is currently considered a bubble team, just missing the cut in the latest tournament projection from ESPN. As a highly-regarded bubble team with big wins already over tournament-level teams such as Florida State and Michigan State, an Alabama win in this one would be huge for the Tide's season resume.

Read after the jump for more on the Gators and Bama's keys to victory...

Florida is led offensively by their two young starting guards in the backcourt. Sophomore point guard Erving Walker leads the team with 5.3 assists per game, and like most any team at this level, the offense really revolves the point guard. Walker is second on the team in scoring at 13.0 points per game and is the team's best 3-point shooter with 2.3 makes per game from beyond the arc while shooting at a 39% clip. His biggest strength however is his speed and quickness off the dribble. A key to stopping the Florida offense will be in how well Bama's perimeter defenders prevent Walker from running free in transition and penetrating the lane in halfcourt sets.

Florida's other starting guard is freshman superstar Kenny Boynton. He leads the team in scoring as a freshman at 14.4 points per game in addition to 3.1 assists per outing. Boynton has proved why he was a highly-touted 5-star recruit coming into Florida this fall. He can score in pretty much every way, from his athleticism and penetration to his 3-point shooting, where he averages exactly two makes per game. However, Boynton is somewhat inconsistent and shoots a lot, only hitting 38% of his shots overall and 26% of his 3-point shots, which account for the majority of his attempts. Depth in the backcourt comes from yet another young player, sophomore guard Ray Shipman, who averages only 2.8 points per game.

The Gators feature another double-digit scorer on the wing in junior forward Chandler Parsons. Despite his 6'9" frame, Parsons plays the role of small forward on the team and averages 10.7 points per game. He can hit from the arc, where he averages just over one make per game, but he is also second on the team with 6.6 rebounds per outing, so he can provide mismatches for opposing teams. When Mitchell isn't in the game for Alabama, we will have a hard time finding someone who can even come close to matching his size on the outside. Despite a much-improved season overall from Parsons, he's probably best known for his two miraculous game-winning buzzer beaters this year, including a 3/4-court heave to beat NC State and a spot-up 3-pointer to bury South Carolina. Senior forward Dan Werner is a former starter at Parson's wing spot and has similar size (6'8") and skills as Parsons, but has seen his form dip as of late and as a result has lost his starting job and many of his minutes to Parsons. Still, his size can provide matchup problems for the Tide when he is in the game.

The Gators have seen some improvement in the post this year with the emergence of junior forward Alex Tyus and the transfer of junior center Vernon Macklin from Georgetown. Tyus leads the team in rebounding at 6.9 per game and is third in scoring with a 12.8 point average. Tyus is a strong all-around post player and was the team's leading scorer in Florida's 83-74 win over Alabama last year in Gainesville. He will be a handful for the Tide's interior defenders. Macklin has given Florida a very potent 1-2 punch down low, nearly averaging double-digits himself as the team's center with 9.8 points per game. At 6'10" he will be the tallest player on the floor and could cause problems for Alabama around the rim. Depth in the post is provided by freshman forward Erik Murphy, a solid rebounder.

Much like their national championship teams a few years ago, in which all five starters averaged double-figures, this Florida team is also very balanced in scoring, with all of the starters averaging between 9.8 and 14.4 points per game. The Bama defense will not be able to focus on any one player, and will instead need to turn its sights on generating turnovers and rebounding. Florida will have a big size advantage and will almost certainly have three players 6'8" or taller on the court at all times. Obviously this means Bama will have to work hard to prevent Florida from getting second chances off of offensive rebounds. The Gators average 11.5 offensive boards per game, so keeping them below that average will be a big key to this game. The flip side to Florida's big size advantage could come in Bama's ability to generate turnovers. With only two guards on the floor at a time, the Tide's full-court pressure defense could potentially cause problems for the Gators.

Alabama struggled offensively earlier this season against Florida State, another team that had a big size advantage over us. They were able to prevent Torrance from getting any easy layups when he penetrated the lane and they went toe-to-toe with Green to neutralize his effectiveness inside. Torrance may need to look to dish more when driving to the basket, and Green simply has to get tougher mentally to realize his full potential and be a playmaker for the entire 40 minutes. As always, to win any close game, we will have to hit our 3s. As a general rule, when we struggle to hit from deep, we can't score enough to beat good teams like Florida.

This game provides us a great opportunity to get a very solid win on our home court before embarking on a very brutal two-game road trip. We need this one badly, but it won't be easy. Florida is squarely on the bubble and will be fighting for their own lives when they come to Tuscaloosa.

To sum up: we need to generate a lot of turnovers (in the range of 20 or so), limit their offensive rebounds (10 or less), and hit our 3s (make 6 or more). If we do at least two of those three, I think we win and get to .500 in the league. If we fail to do two or more of those things, I think the Gators will leave town with a win and put us in a deep hole heading into a tough road trip.

The Process continues. Roll Tide!

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