Florida’s bench will grow by one player when the Gators (14-2, 3-0 SEC) travel to Auburn (8-6, 0-3 SEC) Saturday (4 p.m. SEC TV) as leading scorer Casey Prather has been cleared to play after missing the last two games with a bone bruise. Prather won’t start and Billy Donovan isn’t sure how many minutes he can get out of his senior, who averages 17 points per game, but having him back will be a plus for a team that has had to make due with seven scholarship players since Prather suffered a bone bruise against South Carolina in the first SEC game of the season.
“He was cleared yesterday for non-contact,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said Friday morning. “He’s going to do some contact today, but I really don’t have a real good feel yet of how much we can get out of him because he hasn’t done any contact. He’ll be available for the game, but how much he’ll play is really, really hard to say. I’m doubtful he’s play much, that’s my guess, because here we are a day away from the game and he’s done nothing contact-wise. Now, he’ll do some contact today in practice and I’ll have a better feel for what he can do after practice. But he’s cleared to practice and cleared to play in the game.”
Prather woke up the morning after the South Carolina game with swelling and soreness in his knee. An MRI was done that determined no structural damage so it was simply a matter of waiting for the swelling to do down to allow normal movement.
“The bruise was pretty significant,” Donovan said. “A lot that has gone down. He did some running yesterday, did some non-contact stuff yesterday. Calling it like it is, he looked okay to me. He didn’t look great. We’ll see how he looks today. The healing and swelling and all that stuff is moving in the right direction.”
Prather’s place in the starting lineup will be manned by freshman point guard Kasey Hill for the second straight game.
AUBURN IMPROVED SINCE LAST SEASON
Auburn is winless in three SEC starts but Donovan sees a dangerous team that is much improved since last year. The Tigers went 8-3 against a good non-conference schedule and two of their three SEC losses (Ole Miss and Missouri) came down to the last possession. Donovan hasn’t had to spend a lot of time getting his players’ attention that this is going to be a tough SEC road contest.
“I think our guys understand the non-conference schedule that they’ve played – Illinois, Clemson, Boston – they’ve been tested,” Donovan said. “Their first SEC schedule started off difficult. They had to go to Ole Miss. They played Missouri. They had to go to Tennessee. So they’ve had some tough games and they’ve played very well.”
One reason for the improvement is dynamic backcourt play. The Tigers run a three-guard offense with freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen on the point flanked by Chris Denson and Virginia transfer K.T. Harrell. Deen leads the team in assists while Denson (19.4 points per game) and Harrell (19.0) are the top scoring combo in the SEC.
Denson puts the ball on the floor and makes a bee-line to the rim while Harrell is Auburn’s volume 3-point shooter (nearly six attempts per game; hitting 41% of his shots). Defending two prolific scorers is a difficult task that is made more troublesome by the presence of 7-footer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, who actually has grabbed more offensive rebounds (47) than rebounds on the other end of the court.
Donovan says it is difficult to defend Harrell and Denson because Auburn coach Tony Barbee does a good job of putting them in positions to score while limiting the amount of help that can be given defensively.
“They put those guys in good places on the court where you can’t get a lot of help,” Donovan said. “They’re isolated a lot of times. They’re a good enough 3-point shooting team that if you just starting running at them they’re going to be able to swing the ball and move it. Because of the spacing and their ability to score, drive, pull-up and make mid-range jump shots, layups and threes, the more help you give the more it frees up their frontcourt to offensive rebound. That’s what they’ve done. They’ve really offensive rebounded well. It’s almost like Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss. Last year, you got two frontcourt players at Ole Miss and they’re running screening action and you know Henderson is going to take the shot. Maybe you can dictate what kind of shots they get off, but you also got two guys committed to the basketball and now you’ve freed up their frontcourt to really offensive rebound. That’s where Dixon-Tatum has really taken off. He’s averaging like four offensive rebounds per game.”
While Donovan uses statistical analysis that comes from computer programs that break down possessions and situations, the bulk of scouting and game planning is still done by coaches watching film and analyzing.
The computer helps, certainly, in telling Donovan how an opponent is rebounding, for example.
“What you look at is maybe on drives to the basket, what percentage of those drive do they offensive rebound?” Donovan said. “They’ve got a certain number of offensive rebounds every game. How are those offensive rebounds coming? Are they coming from blocking out? Are they coming from rotations? How are they rebounding the basketball? Those kind of things.”
The information the computer analysis programs spit out doesn’t always make its way to the players, either. It’s simply taken into account by the coaching staff which comes up with a game plan that is easily digested by the players.
“Because sometimes stats and numbers can be deceiving if you just look at the numbers and say ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do,’ “ Donovan said. “Sometimes you’ve got to look at your personnel as well, what kind of matchups you have, and then you’ve got to take some of that information, you know, and then maybe some things you sit there and say ‘if we can take this away from a team that’d be good.’ But when you do try to take something away from a team, it may open up something else. So those are the kind of decisions scouting-wise we’ll make as a staff. A lot of the information’s not going to the players. We’re trying to give them the stuff that’s pertinent of what they’re going to deal with. They’re not paying attention to numbers in the game, they’re having to guard personnel and guard screening actions and those kind of things.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
FLORIDA (14-2, 3-0 SEC): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR); Patric Young (6-9, 240, SR); Kasey Hill (6-1, 181, FR); Scottie Wilbekin (6-2, 176, SR); Michael Frazier (6-4, 199, SO)
AUBURN (8-6, 0-3 SEC): Allen Payne (6-6, 225, SR); Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7-0, 226, SR); K.T. Harrell (6-4, 216, JR); Chris Denson (6-2, 181, SR); Tahj Shamsid-Deen (5-10, 163, FR)