NEW ORLEANS, LA — The Florida Gators (29-5) start their quest for a second straight NCAA championship tonight when face off with Jackson State (21-13), champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (9:45 EDT, CBS). The Gators bring a 12-game post-season winning streak that dates back to the 2006 SEC Tournament. Here are the matchups for tonight’s game.
AL HORFORD (6-10) VS. JEREMY CALDWELL (6-8): Horford averages 13 points and nine rebounds a game. He’s coming off an MVP performance in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. He has developed into a reliable scorer that can step out and hit a 15-foot jump shot. He is Florida’s best rebounder and post defender. Caldwell was hit with injuries this year so he only started six games this year, averaging only 7.3 points per game. Caldwell will try to use his 255 pounds to muscle Horford away from the basket. Horford should be able to get the Jackson State big man in early foul trouble when he posts down low, dips his shoulder to the left and goes up for that baby hook.
JOAKIM NOAH (6-11) VS. GRANT MAXEY (6-7): Noah’s play in the SEC Tournament championship game (17 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots, four assists and five steals) is the kind of play that carried him to the MVP of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Watch for Florida to generate a lot of its offense off the high post with Noah in control of the ball. When he gets the ball at the top of the key, he can drive down low where he can shoot or make the easy dump pass to either Horford or 6-9 Chris Richard, but he is also adept at finding Lee Humphrey spotted up on the wing or the baseline for a three-pointer. Maxey averages 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He is a tremendous leaper that has to make up for a lack of bulk (180 pounds) with his athletic ability. Noah will be able to post Maxey up and take him off the dribble.
COREY BREWER (6-9) VS. TREY JOHNSON (6-5): This is a matchup that you might be seeing for years to come in the NBA. Brewer is one of the most accomplished defenders in all of college basketball and Johnson can score on anyone (27.3 points per game). Offensively, Brewer should be able to school Johnson by taking the ball to the hoop. If the Gators establish the three-point threat early from either Humphrey or Taurean Green, it will open the lane for Brewer to take it to the rack on Johnson. Johnson is the one player on the Jackson State roster that could not only make the Florida team but could actually play. He had a high game of 49 points this season. He’s a creative scorer that doesn’t need a lot of help to get his shot. He will take the three if he’s left open but his best success is getting into the lane where he either gets his shot or gets fouled. Brewer has a quickness advantage but he will need some help from Noah or Horford in the paint. Watch for Brewer to have a solid scoring game.
LEE HUMPHREY (6-2) VS. JULIUS YOUNG (6-6): Everybody knows that Humphrey is one of the best standing shooters in the country, but he’s added the dimension of putting the ball on the floor and taking the ball to the basket this year. He seems to have broken out of his mini-shooting slump in the SEC Tournament. Humphrey is also an accomplished defender, the best the Gators have defending on the ball according to Coach Billy Donovan. Young averages 8.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He’s a decent three-point shooter that is streaky. Watch for Humphrey to come out firing to open up the middle for Horford and Noah. Also watch Humphrey take on Trey Johnson when Brewer takes a rest.
TAUREAN GREEN (6-0) VS. CATRAIVA GIVENS (5-8): When Green is steady and making good decisions with the ball, the Gators rarely lose. He was on top of his game at the SEC Tournament, hitting open threes and making good decisions with the ball. When Green is hitting his open threes, it makes Humphrey extremely dangerous because the defense is stretched. Green has become more aggressive this season taking the ball to the rack. Givens is Jackson State’s quickest player who leads the team in both assists and steals. He rarely shoots (averages just 5.4 points per game) but he does a good job of setting up his teammates. Watch for Green to go to the rack early, trying to get either layups or easy dump down passes to Florida’s taller, more talented bigs.
BENCH: Chris Richard (6-9) would be the starting center for Jackson State and Walter Hodge (6-0) would start on either the wing or at the point. Kay Martinez (6-6) averages 5.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game off the bench. The Tigers will play a nine-man rotation against the Gators.
BILLY DONOVAN (290-123) VS. TEVESTER ANDERSON (166-116): Donovan is at the top of his game. He’s 62-11 in the last two seasons and has the Florida program among the very best in the country. Better known as a recruiter in his early years at Florida, Donovan has developed into an outstanding bench coach. Anderson was a legendary high school coach in Canton, Georgia who has had success at the college level at both Murray State and Jackson State. He has always had a reputation for getting the most out of his talent.