Coming off Alabama's worst played half of the season, the Tide now has to turn around and host the #6 Florida Gators (15-2, 4-0 in the SEC). Billy Donovan has long established himself as the dean of current SEC coaches, as he continues to find high levels of success year in and year out. Coming off three straight Elite Eight appearances, the defending SEC champs look like this year could be their best team since the back-to-back National Champions of 2006-2007. Florida's only two losses both came in close losses on the road against Top 25 teams, when they weren't at full health. The Gators are once again the favorites to win the SEC, even ahead of the absolutely talent loaded Kentucky Wildcats. The Crimson Tide have played many very good teams this season, but this might be the toughest test yet.
The Gators are led at the point by Senior G Scottie Wilbekin (12.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.6 APG 1.8 SPG), who is the best point guard in the league outside of Trevor Releford. Wilbekin was one of those guys who missed a big chunk of the year early in the season, and he was greatly missed. I know it's a bit of a cliche, but his ability to lead on both sides of the court really makes everyone around him better. Wilbekin is one of the few guys in the game who logs over 30 MPG and has a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. He, like everyone on the team, is very sound defensively. Offensively he is an efficient, all-around scorer (40.0% FG%, 40.8% 3P%), though he could use some work on his free throws (66.7%). Sophomore G Michael Frazier (11.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.1 SPG) is your prototypical shooting guard. He doesn't dish the ball out much, but when you shoot 48.1% from the field and 53.8% from three, you don't need to look for assists. He also shoots 86.2% from the free throw line. Freshman G Kasey Hill (6.8 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.4 SPG) is a raw product with a lot of potential for the Gators. The former 5 star recruit has struggled a bit shooting just 38.4% from the field, 16.7% from three, and 69.0% from the free throw line, but his athleticism and fluidity on the court can not be denied. Hill also has a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. 6'6 Junior G Jacob Kurtz (2.2 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.4 SPG) gets about 12 MPG, and is utilized as someone who can give one of the first three guards a break and provide some good length. Billy Donovan's son, Billy Donovan Jr., also plays, though he doesn't get significant minutes.
In the frontcourt, a pair of senior forwards have really dominated for Florida. Senior F Casey Prather (17.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG) has had a breakout year for the Gators. Prather is shooting 63.6% from the field, including 33.3% from three, which isn't too shabby for 6'6 inside out wing player. He has a great knack for creating open looks inside of the arc, and he uses his length on the boards very effectively. 6'9 Senior F Patric Young (10.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG) is one of those guys who feels like he's been around for six seasons. Young has been just as dominant in the post as ever, as he is one of the premier defensive players in the country. He has a ridiculous Defensive Rating of 89.5. He shoots 54.0% from the field, pretty much all around the rim, but he still hasn't mastered the art of free throws (55.1%). He will more than likely tear up our post players on the boards and on the defensive end. Sophomore F Dorian Finney-Smith (10.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.4 BPG) isn't the defensive presence that Young is, but he is even better on the glass. Offensively, he brings more of a shooting threat than Young. Even though he shoots 40.9%, he takes more shots away from the basket, including a 37.3% clip from three. He also is a legitimate threat to dish off the assist to an open look, something most guys that are 6'8 can't do well. Defensive specialist Senior F Will Yeguete (5.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 SPG) uses his tremendous length to lock down opposing players. Yeguete has a Defensive Rating of 90.5, which is fantastic for a college wing player. Finally, Sophomore F DeVon Walker (3.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG) is a good role player off the bench, who like everyone else, plays good, sound defense.
What To Watch For
1. Defense. Florida and Alabama have two of the best defenses in the SEC. This should come as no surprise, as Donovan has always won with defense, and Anthony Grant comes from the Donovan coaching tree. Florida's defense is fantastic. Despite playing a very tough schedule thus far, they are 10th in the country allowing just 59.7 PPG. So don't expect a lot of fireworks.
2. Student vs Master. As I stated, Anthony Grant is cut from the cloth of Billy Donovan. However, did you know that Grant is 0-6 against Donovan since taking over at Alabama? Half of those games weren't even close. Donovan clearly has a lot more on Grant than Grant does on Donovan.
3. Player Discipline. In a sport that has been rampantly plagued by foul calls and free throws, the Gators are the outlier. Florida is 330th in the country in player fouls, meaning only 11 other teams foul less than Florida does.
Three Keys To Victory
1. Generate Some Sort of Inside Presence. Florida is extremely stingy on defense, and Alabama isn't very good on offense. But the Gators aren't incredible at grabbing rebounds, and they actually have a pretty bad block rate. So, if someone like Nick Jacobs can get something going on the inside, Alabama might have a chance in this one.
2. Transition Baskets. Florida's defense is really good because they will absolutely shut you down in the halfcourt. What Alabama is going to have to do is create some fastbreak opportunities. Fortunately, Alabama has two guys in Trevor Releford and Retin Obasohan that can create a fastbreak in a blink of an eye. Alabama needs to get out ahead and run with it. A lot of times Alabama plays deliberately slow, but I just don't see that being successful against the Gators.
3. Hope for an Outlier from the Mean. This is basically my way of saying pray for a miracle. Show up, tune in, and hope that either Florida plays much worse than they usually do, or that Alabama plays a lot better than they usually do. There's really no other way that winning is a possibility.
The game is at home at 6:00 pm CST Thursday night. The game will be televised by ESPN2.