Separated by a year and just few miles growing up, Kenny Boynton and Brandon Knight always have been friends and rivals.
They made up the same backcourt for AAU’s Team Breakdown and squared off for rival high schools with Knight’s Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest more often than not getting the better of Boynton’s Plantation American Heritage.
But off the court they are close.
“We talk a lot,” said Boynton, who unsuccessfully tried, without being pushy, to convince his buddy to sign with Florida. “It used to be about three or four times-a-week, but we haven’t talked since right after the Xavier game (on Dec. 31).”
That might have a good bit to do with each beginning Southeastern Conference play.
So far, Boynton has his Gators (17-5, 6-2) ahead of Knight’s Kentucky Wildcats (16-5, 4-3) in the SEC with a huge head-to-head matchup looming Saturday night in Gainesville.
Not that Knight, a 4.0 student who has scored at least 20 points in eight games this season, is getting overly excited about any aspect of the matchup.
“It’s just another game to me,” said Knight, one of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s top point guard.
At 11th and 10th, UK is ranked higher than UF (ARV/23), and statistically, Knight (17.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.8 apg) has been more productive than Boynton (13.0 ppg, 2.5 apg, 1.7 rpg). However, Boynton is the better defender, and when asked who he would be assigned to cover, his old friend or sharp-shooting Doron Lamb (14.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.2 apg), the Gator sophomore acted like he couldn’t believe the question.
“Knight,” he said simply. “I’ll be on Knight.”
WEEKEND PICKS: Here are my picks for the weekend SEC games.
Georgia 75, Auburn 58; Vanderbilt 78, South Carolina 74; Mississippi State 68, Louisiana State 55; Tennessee 81, Alabama 78; Arkansas 68, Mississippi 67; Kentucky 71, Florida 70.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR/ANSWERS FROM
1. Vanderbilt is first in the league in three-pointers made (158) and second in three-point percentage (.374) to Kentucky (.399). Individually, Southeastern Conference scoring leader John Jenkins (19.1 ppg) ranks fifth in three-point percentage at .415, teammate Rod Odom is 10th (.392), Brad Tinsley is 17th (.362) and versatile Jeffery Taylor is 26th (.343) make up the bulk of the Commodores’ 7.9 three-pointers-a-game. How well will Florida’s perimeter defense – allowing 5.7 threes on average at a .320 clip – fare against the sharp-shooting ‘Dores?
Answer: Give the Gators the win here. Vanderbilt made just 6-of-23 three-pointers (26.1 percent). Not one Commodore was successful on more than one-third of third threes.
2. In Tinsley, Vanderbilt has the league’s leading distributor with a 4.5 assists-a-game average. As teams the Gators and Commodores are tied for second in the SEC in assists with 14.1 apg (Georgia has a healthy lead at 15.4 apg). Which team will dish out the most assists?
Answer: Both were below their average, but the Gators won the matchup, 11-8. Erving Walker led all players with four assists.
3. The SEC’s two leaders in field goal percentage, Vanderbilt junior center Festus Ezeli (.596) and Florida senior center Vernon Macklin (.578), will match up in the post. A native of Benin City, Nigeria, the 6-foot-11 Ezeli averages 13 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 0.8 spg and 0.2 apg, while the 6-10 Macklin averages 11.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1 bpg, 0.5 apg and 0.2 spg. That said, depth could become key here, as Vandy’s only other true center (6-11 freshman Josh Henderson) is redshirting and UF freshman Patric Young (3.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.8 bpg) is starting to blossom. Who will win this enticing center matchup?
Answer: This one was a disappointment. Due in part to foul trouble and the stingy defense provided by Macklin and Young, Ezeli scored just five points, grabbed four rebounds, blocked two shots and didn’t record a steal or assist before fouling out after 20 minutes. He also had a game-high four turnovers. Macklin, who also battled foul issues, didn’t have his best night, scoring six points, grabbing five rebounds and turning the ball over twice. He didn’t record an assist, a steal or a blocked shot in his 25 minutes. He sat all of overtime after going 0-for-2 from the free-throw line late in regulation. Young played 21 minutes, scoring three points and blocking two shots. He didn’t grab a rebound, dish out an assist or make a steal. However, the energetic freshman was the most effective of the trio late, putting through a hook shot and slapping away a Commodore shot attempt under the hoop.
4. Vanderbilt leads the SEC with an average of 78.8 points-a-game on a league-best .463 shooting. Florida, meanwhile, has been stingy, limiting opponents to 61.6 points-a-game on .413 shooting. Who gets closer to the norm, Vandy’s O or UF’s D?
Answer: Florida won 65-61 in double overtime and limited Vanderbilt to 37.5 percent shooting.
5. Freshman swingman Casey Prather has started getting more minutes of late. How will he fare against a team from his home state of Tennessee?
Answer: Prather only got six minutes, but he did grab three rebounds. He didn’t take a shot or a free throw and was whistled for two fouls. He did play hard and didn’t attempt to do too much.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR
1. Perhaps Kentucky’s biggest weakness is one of Florida’s biggest strengths – center play. Wildcats’ senior Josh Harrellson has been a little better than expected, scoring six points- and grabbing nine rebounds-a-game. Backup Eloy Vargas (2.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg) has been as ineffective at UK as he was at UF early in his career. By all means Vernon Macklin and Patric Young should dominate the position, even though UK does block 6.7 shots-a-game as a team. Will UF’s bigs control the paint?
2. Kentucky’s freshman power forward Terrence Jones (17.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg) is on the short list of candidates for the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the year (for that matter, so is teammate Brandon Knight: (17.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.8 apg). Also among 30 on the midseason list for the John R. Wooden Award (given to the nation’s outstanding player), Jones can score inside and out, driving to the hole or on a stop and pop. How will UF’s staff decide to defend Jones?
3. Kenny Boynton has made 29-of-31 free throws since SEC play began. Boynton admitted after Tuesday night’s victory against Vanderbilt that he needed to work to get to the line more. Will he? And will his run of success continue?
4. Harrellson and Jones are tied for the SEC lead with an average of nine rebounds-a-game, respectively, and UK is 13-1 this season when outrebounding its opponent. Florida, meanwhile, leads the league in rebounding margin at plus-7.0 (UK is fourth at 5.4). Who will be the better rebounding team?
5. Kentucky has three players making at least 40-percent of their three-point attempts, as Doron Lamb (.477) leads the SEC, Darius Miller (.456) is second and Brandon Knight (.402) is seventh. Not far off that ridiculous pace is No. 19 DeAndre Liggins (.358) and 34th-ranked Terrence Jones (.314). As a team, Kentucky shoots easily a league-best .399 from three-point range (Vanderbilt is next at .369) and makes 7.7-a-game, while UF’s defense allows just opponents to make 5.73 threes-a-game at a .317 clip, seventh-best in the conference. The Gators may need to play their best perimeter defensive game of the year. Can they do it?
GAME 23 PREVIEW
No. ARV/23 FLORIDA GATORS (17-5, 6-2)
Position: Players, Height/Weight, Year, 2010-11 statistics
G: Erving Walker, 5-8/171, JR, 14.5 points per game, 3.3 assists per game
G: Kenny Boynton, 6-2/183, SO, 13.0 points per game, 2.5 assists per game
F: Chandler Parsons, 6-10/218, SR, 10.7 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game
F: Alex Tyus, 6-8/220, SR, 8.8 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game
C: Vernon Macklin, 6-10/240, SR, 11.1 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game
Head coach: Billy Donovan (348-144 in 15th season at Florida; 383-164 in 17th season as a head coach)
No. 11/10 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (16-5, 4-3)
Position: Players, Height/Weight, Year, 2010-11 statistics
G: Brandon Knight, 6-3/182, FR, 17.2 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game
G: DeAndre Liggins, 6-6/210, JR, 8.6 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game
G/F: Darius Miller 6-7/228, JR, 10.0 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game
F: Terrence Jones, 6-8/244, FR, 17.9 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game
C: Josh Harrellson, 6-10/275, SR, 6.0 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game
Head coach: John Calipari (51-8 in 2nd season at Kentucky and 496-148 in 22 seasons overall)
When: Saturday, Feb. 5 at 9 p.m.
Where: Stephen C. O’Connell Center
TV/Radio: ESPN/Gator Radio Network/Sirius 121/XM 141
Tickets: Available. Visit http://www.gatorzone.com/tickets/
Notable: The doors to the O’Connell Center are scheduled to open at 8:30 a.m. to allow students and other Gator fans to be a part of ESPN’s College GameDay experience. … Kentucky leads the all-time series, 88-32. The Wildcats swept last year’s two games, winning 89-77 on Jan. 10, 2010 in Gainesville and following that up with a 74-66 victory on March 7 in Rupp Arena. Despite that, the Gators have won eight-of-the-last-12 in the series and had won five-in-a-row against UK in the O’Connell Center prior to last year’s loss. … Billy Donovan is 12-18 as a coach against Kentucky at UF (12-20 overall), but he is 8-6 against the Wildcats in the O’Connell Center. … UF is 10-3 at home this year, including 3-1 against SEC foes. … The Wildcats got good news this week when it was announced former Mississippi State scholarship guard Twany Beckham was transferring to UK, where he will walk on. A 6-foot-5 guard from Louisville, Beckham will be a junior. He played in 33 games for the Bulldogs as a freshman before redshirting as a sophomore. Beckham played in five games early this season and will be eligible to play for Kentucky at the end of the first semester of the 2011-12 season. He is allowed to practice with the Wildcats the rest of this year. … This is Kentucky’s fourth road game in five contests. … The Wildcats have six players (Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Doron Lamb) averaging at least 25.5 minutes-a-game. The depth dropoff is noticeable from there, as next up is former Gator Eloy Vargas at 9.8 mpg. … The Gators are 3-0 in conference games that are extended to at least one overtime. In all, UF has played in four overtime games this year, tying the school record set in 1978-79 (this year’s other result was a neutral-court loss to Central Florida). … Chandler Parsons has recorded double figures in rebounding in each of the last four games. The 6-foot-10 senior swingman is averaging 12.0 rpg during that stretch. … Kentucky has made 19-of-21 free throws in games where the lead is six points or less and there are three minutes or fewer left to play in either regulation or overtime. … The Gators are 6-1 this year when the unselfish Parsons takes at least 10 shots from the floor. … Kentucky leads all programs with 2,039 wins. … Kentucky is 7-0 this year when Liggins scores in double figures and 8-0 when the team shoots at least 50-percent from the floor. The Wildcats are 16-0 in 2010-11 when limiting opponents to fewer than 68 points. … Kentucky is the only team in the league to have two players in the top five in scoring (Jones and Knight) and rebounding (Harrellson and Jones). The Wildcats’ average margin of victory of 15.1 points leads the conference. … Florida freshman center Patric Young is averaging 21.6 minutes-a-game in SEC play. In conference he has been successful on 63.6 percent of his shots and leads the Gators with nine blocked shots. … Young’s teammate at Jacksonville Providence, 6-4 swingman Stacey Poole Jr., is averaging 0.3 points and 0.7 rebounds in 3.5 minutes-a-game as a freshman for UK. Poole’s father (Stacey Sr.) scored 1,678 points to rank fourth on Florida’s career list. … Kentucky’s Doron Lamb set a freshman single-game scoring record with 32 against Winthrop earlier this year. However, Jones scored 35 against Auburn to claim the mark for himself. Oddly, neither player was in the starting lineup the day they set the record. … Florida has 50 offensive rebounds combined in the last three games. The Gators have grabbed at least 15 offensive boards in each of those contests. … Kentucky ranks 10th nationally in RPI, while UF is 17th. … UF has won 42 of its last 70 games against ranked opponents, including victories this season against then-sixth-ranked Kansas State and earlier this week against No. 23 Vanderbilt. … UK is turning the ball over an SEC-low 11.4 times-a-game. Florida is third at 12.7. Each team is forcing exactly 13 turnovers-a-game. … This is the 26th straight times these two schools will play one another on national television, the longest active streak in the league.
PAST EXAMS AND GATOR(GR)ADES
Game 1: Florida 77, UNC Wilmington 60. Gator Player of the Game: Scottie Wilbekin (3 points, 5 assists, 4 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Chad Tomko (15 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: B– . Record: 1-0.
Game 2: Ohio State 93, Florida 75. Gator Player of the Game: Vernon Macklin (12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block); Opposing Players of the Game: David Lighty (26 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal) and Jared Sullinger (26 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C. Record: 1-1.
Game 3: Florida 105, North Carolina A&T 55. Gator Player of the Game: Will Yeguete (7 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Thomas Coleman (8 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A– . Record: 2-1.
Game 4: Florida 61, Morehead State 55. Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Kenneth Faried (20 points, 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots. Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C– . Record: 3-1.
Game 5: Florida 79, Florida Atlantic 63. Gator Players of the Game: Alex Tyus (19 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist) and Kenny Boynton (21 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound); Opposing Player of the Game: Greg Gantt (17 points, 2 assists, 1 steal). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: B-. Record: 4-1.
Game 6: Florida 55, Florida State 51. Gator Player of the Game: Erik Murphy (10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 blocked shot); Opposing Player of the Game: Michael Snaer (15 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 5-1.
Game 7: Central Florida 57, Florida 54. Gator Player of the Game: Vernon Macklin (20 points on 10-of-11 shooting, 8 rebounds); Opposing Player of the Game: Marcus Jordan (18 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C-. Record: 5-2.
Game 8: Florida 67, American 48. Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Troy Brewer (17 points, 2 rebounds). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 6-2.
Game 9: Florida 65, Kent State 52. Gator Players of the Game: Alex Tyus (20 points on 10-of-15 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist) and Vernon Macklin (19 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, 1 steal, 1 assist); Opposing Player of the Game: Carlton Guyton (14 points, 4-of-6 on three-pointers, 3 rebounds, 3 assists). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 7-2.
Game 10: Florida 57, Kansas State 44. Gator Players of the Game: Kenny Boynton (15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, 1 assist, helped limit Pullen to 6-of-17 shooting); Opposing Player of the Game: Jacob Pullen (19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 8-2.
Game 11: Jacksonville 71, Florida 68 (OT). Gator Player of the Game: Erving Walker (game-high 21 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound); Opposing Player of the Game: Keith McDougald (team-high 18 points – 15 in the second half/overtime, 2 steals, 1 rebound). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: D+. Record: 8-3.
Game 12: Florida 66, Radford 55. Gator Player of the Game: Erving Walker (game-high 20 points, including 5-of-7 on 3s, 3 assists, 2 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Johnathan Edwards (team-high 15 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C-. Record: 9-3.
Game 13: Florida 71, Xavier 67. Gator Player of the Game: Kenny Boynton (16 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal); Opposing Player of the Game: Tu Holloway (game-high 26 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A. Record: 10-3.
Game 14: Florida 84, Rhode Island 59. Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (18 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot); Opposing Player of the Game: Delroy James (game-high 23 points, 6 rebounds). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A. Record: 11-3.
Game 15: Florida 77, Mississippi 71. Gator Player of the Game: Erving Walker (20 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, becomes 47th Gator to record 1,000 career points); Opposing Player of the Game: Chris Warren (20 points, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 rebounds, 1 blocked shot). Buddy’s Gator(Gr)ade: B+. Record: 12-3 (1-0 in the SEC).
Game 16: Florida 81, Tennessee 75 (OT). Gator Player of the Game: Alex Tyus (18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, 1 steal); Opposing Players of the Game: Cameron Tatum (game-high 21 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 blocked shot, 1 steal) and Tobias Harris (18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocked shots). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 13-3 (2-0).
Game 17: South Carolina 72, Florida 69 Gator Player of the Game: Patric Young (career-high 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 blocked shot, 1 steal, 2-for-2 FTs in 19 minutes); Opposing Player of the Game: Bruce Ellington (game-high 23 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 4-for-4 on FTs, 1 turnover in 30 minutes). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: D+. Record: 13-4 (2-1).
Game 18: Florida 45, Auburn 40 Gator Player of the Game: No award given; Opposing Player of the Game: Earnest Ross (11 points, 3-of-4 three-pointers, 3 rebounds, game-high 3 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: D. Record: 14-4 (3-1).
Game 19: Florida 75, Arkansas 43 Gator Players of the Game: Kenny Boynton (20 points, 4-of-7 three-pointers, 4 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers, held Razorbacks’ leading scorer, Rotnei Clark, shotless) and Chandler Parsons (career-high 15 rebounds, 5 points, game-high 5 assists); Opposing Player of the Game: Delvon Johnson (12 points, team-high 7 rebounds, 1 blocked shot). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A. Record: 15-4 (4-1).
Game 20: Florida 104, Georgia 91 (2 OT) Gator Players of the Game: Vernon Macklin (career-high 23 points, 10-of-15 from floor, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), Kenny Boynton (game-high 24 points, 12-of-12 FTs, 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals) and Erving Walker (game-high 24 points, game-tying 3 at end of first OT, 5 assists, 4 rebounds); Opposing Player of the Game: Trey Thompkins (20 points, game-high 13 rebounds, game-high 3 blocked shots). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 16-4 (5-1).
Game 21: Mississippi State 71, Florida 64 Gator Players of the Game: Erving Walker (team-high 18 points, 5 rebounds, team-high 4 assists, 2 turnovers); Opposing Player of the Game: Dee Bost (game-high 24 points, game-high 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 turnover). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C. Record: 16-5 (5-2).
Game 22: Florida 65, Vanderbilt 61 (OT) Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (team-high 18 points, game-high 11 rebounds with 4 offensive, 3 steals, 2 assists, 1 turnover in 39 minutes); Opposing Player of the Game: John Jenkins (game-high 22 points, 6 rebounds 1 steal, 1 turnover in 42 minutes). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: B. Record: 17-5 (6-2).