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#21 Gators with big chore against #5 Duke

Okay, so you’re going to play a game in Madison Square Garden, man how exciting is that? Now, add in the winningest coach in men’s college basketball history and the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils (8-1) to that story and you have one heck of a setup for Tuesday night.  The Gators (7-1) have their hands full.

#21 Florida Gators (7-1) vs #5 Duke Blue Devils (8-1)

The Jimmy V Classic

New York, New York; Madison Square Garden

December 6, 2016; 9:00 P.M.

BROADCAST: ESPN

Florida’s Men’s Basketball Team cracked the Top 25 for the first time in his tenure with the Gators this week, just in time to face the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils and head coach Mike White knows his team is going to be a bit excited to play the perennial power in the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena’. Too much excitement is something to guard against.

“I’m not going to lie. Our guys are going to be so jacked up,” White said at a presser on Monday. “I’m sure Duke is prepared for that. Any time they play an opponent it’s a potential ‘storm the court’ game. When they’re playing on the road or at home of course, a neutral site like our case, they’re going to get teams’ best shot.  From a physical standpoint and being jacked up.

“I’ll be surprised if we don’t come out and play really, really hard and be excited about the challenge and opportunity. I’m more concerned with how we handle the stage of the bright lights, and Madison Square Garden, and playing Duke… handling the runs that they’ll go on. Playing with maturity and playing with poise, defending at a high level of intensity without fouling. More the mental side with this scouting report, than the 10 plays we need to memorize, or the four new plays we put in.

I think our mentality is as important as anything else, our level of maturity and poise in this one.

“When you talk about poise and maturity, you’ve gotta have poise and maturity with the ball in your hands, especially against their really good defense. They are so good in transition offense, especially when they play four guards. To this point of the season, they’ve been incredible in transition offense. If you press, if you force offensively, if you commit live ball turnovers, you really put yourself in peril against these guys.

Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

For the Gators, there is so much going on with who and where they are playing, White needs them to understand the most important thing to remember is to stay within themselves. Take care of the things they can take care of.

“Devin Robinson had a great quote 2-3 weeks ago that we use with the team ‘It’s another game, it’s another day, it’s another gym.’ The focus needs to be on us doing our jobs and getting better. Those are the things we talk about a lot. We can’t allow for the stage to be too big. We can’t play differently because we’re in Madison Square Garden and against Duke. I know it’s really exciting, but I know this… if we get better during those 40 minutes, if we’re really doing our jobs at a high level, playing for each other, being extremely accountable, playing with crazy energy, slowing down when the ball’s in our hands… then we’ll be competitive. But, if we’re thinking about ‘oh wow, this is Madison Square Garden, this is really, really different’, then we’re thinking about the wrong thing.

While the Gators have played a more demanding schedule, including every game away from home, this will by far be the biggest test for them. The Blue Devils started the season as the top ranked team in the country. Only a loss to No. 3 Kansas has them less than that.

Florida is playing good basketball, led by their defense. White believes they are in a much better shape than a year ago, but he still has to find out the limits of his team which has only lost to No. 10 Gonzaga.

“I think more equipped but to what extent I don’t know,” White said of this year’s team. “We haven’t been put in this many opportunities. The one team we played to this point with this year’s team that was potentially a top 10ish team was Gonzaga. I really liked the way we handled it in the first half, but I’m not sure we handled it really well in the second half.

“We were a different team in the second 20 minutes. It was almost like we were trying to hang on. I loved the start that we got off to offensively and defensively in that game. In fact we missed a few layups in the first half and made a couple of poor decisions late in the first half or we could have gone into the locker room with a comfortable lead.

“Our focus, our lack of poise, our lack of staying in the moment, I think were a detriment to us. Hopefully we can learn from that.

“When we’re playing as well as we were in the first half against Gonzaga, I think we can compete with a lot of teams. I think we’re a pretty good team when we play like that.”

White was not pleased with his team the last time out. In a 31 point win over UNF, he felt the defense was lacking. However, the offense found its stride from three point land and inside hitting for 91 points in the contest. Scoring the basket during the game is still an issue for this team, so seeing that happen was a good thing. But, playing UNF and Duke is a totally different thing.

“I hope we don’t hang our hat on really shooting a terrific percentage,” White said about the last outing. “I hope we do, I hope we make a bunch of shots. Duke is really good defensively. They’re a much different defensive team than North Florida of course. We aren’t going to be able to move the ball quite as much. We’re not going to be as comfortable with their size, speed, and quickness. They’re going to be in passing lanes. They’re aggressive and very physical. Their guards are all very good defensively. They’re going to be really prepared.

“I expect to see some zone, but not 40 minutes of it like the other night.

But, any time you see the ball going in, especially with us, a program that isn’t necessarily as confident as some others, because we’re still in the rebuilding process. We’re still looking for that signature ‘get over the hump’ type of win. Making shots for us is big, but we’ll have to defend at a high level whether we’re shooting 60% or 35%. We’ve got to continue to hang our hat on that. We’ve shown at times how good we can be defensively.

Scout

The chore Tuesday night is a big one. The Blue Devils have stars coming off the bench for stars. Jacksonville native Grayson Allen is the team’s second leading scorer (17.1 ppg) and he comes off the bench.

The Blue Devils saw Jayson Tatum back in the lineup against Maine in their last contest. The true freshman missed the early part of the season with an injury and jumped right in with 10 points and 8 rebounds in his first contest.  He is expected to start Tuesday night.

“I found out that he was coming back right before the game against Maine the other day,” White said of Tatum.  You better take the challenge mentally as much as anything, understanding how talented the guy is, cupping him in transition. You have to do that with their other guys anyway.

“They (just) added another weapon. It’s not like they can get a ton better offensively. I say that, maybe I’m wrong, maybe they can.”

The list of star players goes on for Duke.

“Luke Kennard has been incredible and Grayson Allen has received as much publicity and notoriety as anyone in the country and deservedly so, those guys are so difficult to defend,” White said. “Fred Jackson is going to be a terrific player, is already, but on his way to becoming better and better with experience. Marques Bolden adds to the front line of course, he’s such a talented guy.

“I love Amile Jefferson’s game. He’s just so dependable, so consistent offensively and defensively, so intelligent. They just have a really good team.”

The Gators definitely have their hands full. While a neutral court, not many programs travel as well as the Blue Devils, so expect a big advantage for the Blue Devils there. The gators are going to have to play a big game defensively, and that means defensive rebounds which is the biggest concern for Mike White about his team. Duke usually runs smaller and quick teams out there, but they can run size and will.

This will be a true test to see where these Gators stand right now. So far, they have shown up to every game ready to play.


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