While the rivalry between Florida and Tennessee has fizzled considerably on the football field (after all the other team does need to win once in a while for it to be a rivalry), the annual showdown between the two schools’ respective basketball squads has grown to be one of the SEC’s most anticipated matchups year in and year out.
Normally, the division rivals play twice a year. With the realignment in the SEC however, the teams were given one meeting this year, set for Tuesday in Knoxville, Tenn. It is the first time since 1964 the teams won’t have a home and home.
Florida hasn’t experienced much success in Knoxville — under Billy Donovan or any other coach for that matter. The Gators are 16-43 all-time in Knoxville, and sport a miserable 5-11 record in Thompson-Boling Arena under Donovan.
When the Gators take the floor on Tuesday, they’ll be doing so without the services of shooting specialist Michael Frazier II, who experienced a concussion on Saturday against Arkansas.
The freshman guard had begun to see his role develop as the season has wore on, with an increased presence in the lineup once forward Will Yeguete went down with a knee injury.
Donovan said on Monday although Frazier will be out for the Tennessee game, he could return to action this weekend.
“I think it was probably not as severe as first thought,” Donovan said. “I know there’s still some protocol that they all have to go through, the doctors and trainers. There’s some steps they have to go through for him to be cleared. I imagine, if not today, tomorrow he’ll start to get into some light exercise and see how he responds.”
With both Frazier and Yeguete out, the Gators are looking at having only six players with significant experience this season available on Tuesday. Out of necessity, Florida will be forced to play one, if not all three of their other true freshmen, none of which having seen much action outside of garbage time this season.
Donovan says he’s not sure who will be the first freshman off the bench, saying it depends on who from the regular rotation gets in foul trouble first. He did however, delve into the progress his freshman have made this season.
“They cannot just rely on their individual talent at this level,” Donovan said. “I think practice has been very, very effective and helpful for them to improve in some of those areas … Every guy in October starts out with this great level of enthusiasm and excitement you are going to play, but as all of a sudden roles and minutes start to get distributed and you are not playing a lot .
“One of the things I’ve talked to our guys about, even back early in the year when we lost Prather and Wilbekin was out some games and Murphy was injured, you never know what is going to happen and if something happens inside of our team you need to prepare yourself to be ready.
“I think there are great examples in sports. You look at a guy like Tom Brady getting a chance when (Drew) Bledsoe goes down and being ready for that. These guys, I think they have worked hard. They haven’t been thrust into these situations, but they have worked hard and gotten better.”
While there shouldn’t be an expectation of a Brady/Bledsoe or Wally Pipp/Lou Gehrig scenario taking place, Florida could definitely benefit from their freshmen gaining experience, especially if Frazier and/or Yeguete’s injuries do not heal as anticipated.
Although Donovan seems unsure of what exactly he’ll get out of his freshmen, he stated they’ll need to be prepared to see the court early.
“Yes they have to get in early,” Donovan said. “Right now we have three guards that have basically absorbed all of our minutes … at some point within that first 10 minutes we have got to sub. We are not going to be able to go through this game with just six guys. It’s going to be totally impossible especially if you have some foul trouble.
“It’s not going to be one of those things where, OK, go in for 30 seconds and just give this guy a quick rest and then you’re coming back out … I think they are excited about the opportunity, those guys. It will be a great challenge for them.
“There is no question we have to change and do a lot of different things and it is a lot to get prepared for in such a short period of time because there are things that we need to do differently and things that we have to get prepared for playing against a team we haven’t seen yet.”
Prepping for an Unfamiliar Opponent
Although the Gators and Volunteers are more than familiar with each other’s acquaintances, the Gators have yet to see the 2013 edition of the Vols live and in-color.
There is little doubt that preparing for an opponent a team hasn’t seen, and doing so with the expectation of playing a crop of new players, will be a challenge for Donovan and his staff.
“When you play Missouri last week there is a familiarity in terms of size, strength, speed, athleticism those kind of things. There is at least a common thread there for both teams playing against each other,” Donovan said. “When you have a quick turnaround like this coming out of Saturday’s game and having yesterday and today to prepare for a game tomorrow, you really have to get your guys the stuff that is going to be important and valuable in the game.
“We’re having to do a lot of that right now … we’re going to have to mix and match some different lineups based on fatigue factors, foul trouble, how the game is going and those kinds of things.”
No Room at the Inn
While Frazier’s injury is a recent occurrence, Yeguete has been out for quite some time, with fans counting down the days until he returns. Donovan said the junior forward ran “five or six” sprints on Thursday and Friday, with a bit of cutting and moving thrown in as well.
The plan was to wait for 24 hours to see if any issues arose, which they did in neither instance. Donovan says the plan as of now is to continually increase his workload, and make sure there is no swelling. If things go as planned, Yeguete could start practicing with the team as early as this week.
Although Yeguete’s return would be a significant boost to the lineup, there’s no question tat Florida is still limited in the frontcourt in terms of size and depth. The Gators added two off-season frontcourt transfers in Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris, but neither player is eligible this season.
Despite the transfers, Donovan was asked if he wished he would have brought in an additional frontcourt player this season.
“We were out of scholarships,” Donovan said. “I think, for us, we did a pretty good job getting Doe-Doe (Dorian Finney-Smith) and Damontre Harris, two frontcourt players. You can never forecast that. It’s like Kentucky with Nerlens Noel, I’m sure they wish they had another frontcourt player to go in there. Sometimes, with your scholarship situation, you can’t dictate that.
“We elected from a recruiting standpoint to take Doe-Doe because I recruited him and Damontre Harris because I recruited him too. It would give us more depth in our frontcourt. With Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, Patric Young, Erik Murphy, and Cody Larson, that’s five people … You can’t forecast a guy deciding not to play, can’t forecast Will Yeguete going down with a knee injury. So that number goes from five down to three. It makes it challenging, but just something we’ve got to deal with.”