While the Gators are playing without most of their team from last year's run to a second straight national title, Coach Billy Donovan has reloaded and fields a talented squad that is turning heads around the conference.
Florida features junior sharpshooter Walter Hodge, who shot 50 percent from three-point range last season. Hodge is the only player on Florida's 2007-2008 team to play for both of its national championship teams. The 6-0, 170 guard is averaging 9.9 points per game.
Hodge is joined in the backcourt by freshmen Jai Lucas and Nick Calathes, two of the most decorated high school players in the country a year ago. Calathes had 21 points, nine rebounds and seven rebounds in Florida's SEC opener, a 90-83 road victory over Alabama. He is averaging a team-high 15.2 points per game and a team-high 5.9 assists. The six-foot-six, 194 guard is also contributing 4.9 rebounds per contest. Lucas, who is 5-11, is averaging 9.6 points and 2.2 assists.
The big man in the starting lineup is 6-10, 245 sophomore Marreese Speights, who is averaging 14.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Dan Werner, a 6-7, 235 sophomore, is the other starter. He averages 7.4 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Florida's lineup leads the conference in scoring defense, allowing only 61.9 points per game. The Gators also lead the conference in field goal percentage (.513) and scoring margin as they average beating their opponents by 19.6 points per game.
Auburn co-captain Quantez Robertson is ranked seventh in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, with a ratio of 3.05-1. In Auburn's last seven games, he has a ratio of 4.4-1, dishing out 35 assists and only turning the ball over eight times. However, in Auburn's 76-70 loss to Arkansas on Thursday night, Robertson failed to record an assist for the first time this season.
Junior guard Rasheem Barrett is coming off a 21-point night against Arkansas and looks to continue his streak of nine straight games of scoring in double-figures.
Florida's team has seven freshmen, three sophomores and one junior. The Gators are unranked, but are receiving votes in both polls. They boast a 14-5 record against Auburn in the O'Connell Center and have beaten the Tigers each of the last eight times the two teams have met in Gainesville. Florida is an excellent three-point-shooting team, with a 40.1 percentage from behind the arc. Auburn has had trouble defending teams that shoot well from three and Florida definitely fits that description.
The Gators do not turn the ball over often, averaging only 12.8 per game, so Auburn will have to try to continue its success forcing turnovers (16.2 per game) against a stingy Florida team. Auburn's Jeff Lebo will also be looking for his first win over Billy Donovan, who has won all three of the meetings between the two coaches.
"Florida is a young team and a new-looking team," Lebo says. "They are improving and (had) one of the top recruiting classes in the country. They are a team that can really shoot the basketball from the perimeter.
"They are going to change defenses," Lebo adds. "They played a little bit more zone the last couple of games. When you talk about Florida, you talk about talent and skills and a really well-coached team."
Auburn senior Quan Prowell takes a shot vs. Arkansas.
Auburn has lost its last two games, two-thirds of a streak that sees the Tigers playing three teams with a combined record of 37-8. Xavier, Arkansas and Florida were also NCAA tournament teams a year ago. This is arguably the toughest stretch of games on Auburn's schedule, which is a major test for these Tigers, especially with them playing without leading scorer and rebounder Korvotney Barber and freshman center Boubacar Sylla.
Barber is expected to be out for at least five more weeks recovering from broken bones in his hand and it is unknown if Sylla will play again this year after re-injuring his ankle.
Sophomore Lucas Hargrove passes the ball vs. Arkansas. He scored 10 points in a reserve role for the Tigers.
Basketball Notes: Florida and Auburn have each played Charleston Southern, with the Gators winning 89-64 and Auburn winning 89-59...Auburn leads the all-time series 86-66 with a 56-21 record in Auburn and a 42-30 record in Gainesville, Fla...Florida leads the all-time series in games played at neutral sites with a record of 3-2...Freshman Nick Calathes leads the SEC in assists per game with an average of 5.9...The Tigers have not won in the O'Connell Center since a 73-70 victory on Feb. 10, 1996.