It is Florida against Florida State — and regardless of sport that means something. Gators fans are hoping it means another beat down of their bitter rival, while the Seminoles may be wincing at the prospect of facing a team that seems to be firing on all cylinders.
No. 6 Florida (6-0) enters Wednesday’s road game at 7 p.m., with its highest national ranking since 2007 and fresh off the shellacking of Marquette. Meanwhile, the Seminoles (4-3) have dropped two straight homes games, including a humbling loss to Mercer. But the mantra often holds true with rivalry games and may be worth repeating here — “throw the records out the window.”
Each year, Florida State can be relied upon for a handful of awful performances, mixed with a few brilliant ones. At least one of the latter, as well as a court storming, is typically reserved for Duke, but the skidding Seminoles would surely love to host an on-court, post game party at the Donald L.Tucker Center. In order for Florida to keep the fans in the stands, we offer the “5 Keys To Victory:”
5) We want Murph: At the moment, the game status for senior forward Eric Murphy remains unknown. He had not practiced Monday following a hip pointer injury sustained in Florida’s victory over Marquette and thus could sit out. Needless to say, this would have major impact on both ends of the floor. Florida State presents a sizeable lineup, anchored by its 6-foot-11 center Kiel Turpin. Losing Murphy would put tremendous strain on a rather thin frontcourt, and would force Florida to play smaller than it would against a big team. This may require Florida to play extended minutes in the 2-3 zone, against a streaky perimeter shooting squad. On the offensive end, Florida would lose its most productive interior scorer, as well as its prototypical “stretch 4” who would force some of the Seminoles size out on the perimeter. In which case, look for the Gators to push the tempo even more, hoping to perhaps offset a loss of size with gained speed. Solid games from both Casey Prather and Will Yeguete would be needed to offset the loss of Florida’s second leading scorer and third leading rebounder. This would be higher on our list, but is an unknown and uncontrollable factor. Still, it can hardly be ignored. Florida can beat Florida State without Murphy, but it becomes significantly more difficult.
4) Guard the arc: What had once been a defensive Achilles heel for the Gators, has been a strength this season and must be so again versus Florida State. In four of its six victories Florida has held its opponent to less that 30 percent shooting from beyond the arc and has allowed only two teams to make more than five long-range shots all season. Though FSU has been erratic from a game-to-game standpoint, its season 3-point field goal percentage is a lofty 39 percent. Taking a closer look, however, we see that the Seminoles shot a whopping 53 percent on 27-of-51 shooting in three of their victories and a mere 29 percent in its three losses. Guards Michael Snear and Terry Whisnant are most likely of FSU’s guards to launch, and reasonably likely to make — combining for a 44 percent clip. But the Gators also need be wary of 6-foot-8 forward Okaro White, who has the ability to rise up and get his shot off, and has made 7 of 12 to date. Florida coach Billy Donovan has frequently referred to the 3-point line as the “great equalizer.” In a game in which Florida is the more talented squad, the Gators must not allow this to be the case.
3) Cry “Foul!”: As usual, Leonard Hamilton’s FSU team is aggressive defensively but occasionally undisciplined and frequently prone to fouling. This is especially true of the Seminoles’ guards and wings. Snaer, White and Montay all average nearly three personal fouls per contest. They present a long, athletic group that will seek to pressure the Gators on the perimeter. But, by often extending its defense, FSU has been victimized by strong, aggressive guard play capable of drawing fouls. In its three losses, the Seminoles allowed a combined 83 free throws — primarily to its opponent’s perimeter players. Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin, Kenny Boynton and Prather should be able to take advantage of the sometimes bump and slap happy Seminoles by being strong and decisive with the ball. But, crying “foul” is only half the equation. The Gators will need to get to the free throw line and convert.
2) Manage the emotions: Florida has six wins on the young season, and has already recorded impressive victories. Each, however, has been either a home contest or a “neutral site” game. This will be the Gators first true road test, and it comes versus a bitter rival. Surely, the Tucker Center will provide a raucous crowd and the Seminoles will bring a “back against the wall” mentality. Meanwhile, Florida rides in high, coming off a dominating victory and with the publicity of an ascending national ranking. In addition, the contest is sandwiched between two other marquee match ups, including an upcoming trip to Arizona. The Gators must enter this game with the right mindset, so to avoid the proverbial trap. Once the ball is tipped, Florida will boast the better squad but will surely be tested at various points of the game. The Gators would be well suited to take the crowd out of the contest early, but if not they must manage their emotions in a hostile environment. The unknown status of Murphy only magnifies the importance of Florida’s need to play with poise and focus.
1) Snare Snaer, but don’t forget: Snaer is Florida State’s “Mr. Do Everything”. As expected, he leads his squad in minutes played, points and 3-point field goals, while ranking second in rebounds. But perhaps more impressive than his offensive output, is a defensive intensity that may be the best in the ACC. It will be impossible for Florida to entirely neutralize Snaer, but the Gators can make it a difficult evening. In three defeats, Snaer has averaged less than 10 points and battled foul issues in losses to Minnesota and Mercer. Challenging him defensively may yield a similar scenario. And while all eyes will be on Snaer, Florida must not lose sight of a couple other capable performers, notably White and Terrance Shannon. The latter comes off the bench as a consummate spark-plug, providing double digit-points, while also leading the squad in rebounds and steals. “He likes to watch the first five minutes of the game and see what we need,” Hamilton said. The Gators better watch him.