Arizona forward Solomon Hill
The 13 remaining undefeated teams will be reduced by at least one late Saturday night.
Florida and Arizona both entered the season with fanfare -- the Wildcats picked seventh nationally in the preseason, the Gators picked 20th -- but a little more than a month into the season, both have the look of conference leaders. Part of that is the 7-0 starts for both teams, but it’s also because their main foils in the Pac-12 (UCLA) and the SEC (Kentucky) haven’t looked spectacular.
Florida, though, has. The Gators have pounded teams by an average score of 25.3 points per game. Only Indiana and Syracuse have been more dominant in scoring margin. Arizona isn’t all that far behind, defeating teams by 20.4 points per game.
But Arizona hasn’t played the toughest schedule, though road trips to Texas Tech and Clemson are of note. While Florida has established itself as the SEC favorite and a potential Final Four contender, Arizona, with its combination of youth and one key transfer, are looking for a statement win.
Facing the Gators on Saturday night would fit the bill.
Game of the Week
Florida Probable Starters
Arizona Probable Starters
Florida guard Kenny Boynton
Florida may have a marked advantage year. Led by Kenny Boynton, the Gators like to shoot the 3-pointer, making 7.6 per game on 21.6 attempts. Meanwhile, Arizona has struggled defending 3-point line this season. Arizona coach Sean Miller has complimented sophomore guard Nick Johnson’s progress this season -- he’s improved from nine points per game to 13.6 -- but Xavier transfer Mark Lyons is still working to get into a rhythm with his new team. He’s struggled with turnovers, but so has Arizona as a team. The Wildcats turned the ball over 27 times in their last game against Southern Miss. Against Florida’s press, this could be a liability. The Gators are forcing turnovers on 28 percent of possessions, ranking sixth in the nation.
The matchup in the frontcourt may be more even. Florida’s Patric Young has had the look of an elite player since he arrived on campus, but he’s starting to play like one as a senior. His 2.3 blocks per game and 7.9 rebounds are career highs by far. Erik Murphy can shoot from outside, and Will Yeguete is a solid rebounder. Arizona counters with versatile glue guy Solomon Hill. He’s played power forward in the past, but the Wildcats have more size up front with seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley. The latter two are freshmen going up against Florida’s veteran forwards. Still, both teams have been among the best rebounding teams in the country in the early part of the season.
Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin has been a starter twice this season, but off the bench, he’s a solid backup point guard who can defend. Forward Casey Prather and freshman guard Michael Frazier II, who scored 29 points in 39 minutes off the bench against Florida State and Marquette, gives Gators coach Billy Donovan room to tinker with his lineup. Miller has a similar bench with veteran wing Kevin Parrom, junior Jordin Mayes and 6-10 freshman Grant Jerrett.
The mid-December schedule can be a strange one in college basketball with finals and the upcoming holidays, but Florida may feel it more than Arizona in this game. The Gators have had a 10-day layoff since defeating Florida State on Dec. 5 while Arizona has been off for only a week. The late tipoff, 10 p.m. Eastern, might be in play for the Gators as well.
Even if Florida is sluggish to start in Tucson, the Gators have demolished everyone they’ve faced this season. Florida defeated Florida State by 25 on the road, Marquette by 31 and Wisconsin by 18. Arizona’s too good to lose like that at home, so this should be the first real challenge for the Gators. With a deep, veteran team, Florida still has the overall edge.
Florida 74, Arizona 68