Xavier Important Game for UF Resume

Twelve games into the season, the Gator basketball team appears to be right where it was at this time of each of the last three seasons. Florida looks like a squad that is destined to once again be an NCAA "bubble" team, which adds importance to the final two non-conference games on the schedule.

The Gators (9-3) have a mixed resume when it comes to post-season evaluations. Florida can boast of quality wins away from home over top 40 opponents Florida State and Kansas State, but they also have losses to UCF (not so bad) and Jacksonville (really bad). Friday they take on the first of two remaining non-conference opponents when Billy Donovan's squad travels to Cincinnati to take on Xavier. The Musketeers physically dominated last year's meeting in Gainesville 76-64 so this is a chance for the Gators to even the score.

"I thought our frontcourt last year really got dominated in the game," Donovan said. "It was definitely a major factor in the game, and I thought (Jordan) Crawford (18 points) was really a difference maker for them. Obviously he's not there, he's in the NBA but I thought he was as good of a wing player as we faced last year."

Xavier takes an 8-3 record into the contest. Their best win came over Butler 51-49, but they also have as stunning loss to Miami (Ohio) by 14 points. Donovan says the Musketeers are dealing with some of the same things the Gators are.

"I think like us they are a team that comes into the years as a good shooting team on paper," Donovan pointed out. "But maybe like us haven't shot the ball up to their potential. That's always a concern when you are going into someone else's home court."

Xavier is led by junior guard Tu Holloway who is averaging 20.8 points and 5.5 assists. They also get strong play from senior forward Jamel McLean who averages nearly a double-double (10.5/9.5). McLean had 13 rebounds in Gainesville last season and gets help up front from 7-foot center Kenny Frease (11.3/7.8).

The Gators will be playing just their second true road game this season up in Cincinnati. The only other hostile environment they've faced was in Tallahassee where Florida posted a 55-51 win. Donovan is well aware of how good Xavier is at home.

"They are a very good team," Donovan said. "They're a team that's always impressive at home. I think their winning percentage over the last five years is incredible. The fact that they've won 30 straight home games is really impressive. We know we're walking into a hostile environment."

The Gators have not played since a sloppy 66-55 win over Radford three days before Christmas. Donovan said the postponement of Tuesday's game with Fairfield gave the Gators some extra practice time to focus on making improvements to the way they've been playing. He said cutting back on turnovers and improving free throw shooting are two glaring areas of weakness for this team. Florida is committing 14 turnovers per game even though they've rarely been pressed and making just 65 percent of its free throws. Donovan singled out Vernon Macklin (39%) and Chandler Parsons (50%) as two guys who must do better at the charity stripe.

According to Ken Pomeroy's ratings (kenpom.com) Florida enters the contest at No. 33 while Xavier is No. 77. The winner will certainly point to this contest when making its case for post-season consideration. Friday's game gets underway at 4:00.

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