Florida is back in the NCAA tournament and is looking to bounce back from its two-game skid. However, their opponents for the first round are no push overs. The Gators will face off a hot East Tennessee State team that are coming into the tourney riding in with some momentum. ETSU has won nine of its last ten games including the SoCon Tournament.
" Honestly, with East Tennessee State, I think you've got two teams that are pretty similar in a lot of ways. There's probably nothing that intimidates them by us," said UF head coach Mike White. "I don't think that they're going to throw a ton of curveballs at us at the same time. I think we know what we're dealing with. They know what they're dealing with."
The Gators will be dealing with a team that will test the Gators' defense and their discipline. The Buccaneers are top 20 nationally in three categories: in field goal percentage at 49.1 percent, free throw attempts and steals per game.
"This one is as much about us as it is about the opponent," said White. "Your biggest fear going into this one, especially because of us and because of the not-too-distant past is just a couple mental lapses defensively -- and, boy, [TJ] Cromer goes on a 6-0 run by himself, "I forgot to call switch." "I lost him in the corner." Can't have it. Can't have it.
"Transition defense is huge in this one," added White. "They're phenomenal in transition offense. They really feed off of it. They feed off of live-ball turnovers to get them into transition offense."
Who to Watch?
Here is a quick look at the Buccaneers probable starters on Thursday:
Senior guard TJ Cromer leads the offensive attack for Forbes. He averages a team high of 19.1 points per game and has made 103 three-pointers this season. AS his stats demonstrate, Cromer is a high percentage shooting guard that can make shots from anywhere on the field. He recently scored 41 points in ETSU's 81-72 win over Samford in the SoCon Tournament.
With Cromer a threat at the basket, Desonta Bradford is the one that will be feeding Cromer and co. Bradford is an athletic guard that leads the team with 4.0 assists per contest.
"Bradford is terrific at getting in the paint," said White. "We overhelped a few time against Vanderbilt that led to open threes. We can't overhelp on Bradford, although he scores it in the paint. They've got guys that can fill it up from behind the arc. And lastly, we've got to defend the glass. We've got to do collectively. Glass and Perea are high-level athletes with high-level motors. Quick, strong, and relentless on the offensive glass."
Tevin Glass is beast on the boards for ETSU leading the team with 6.2 rebounds per game. He was a big contributor in SoCon tournament, netting double figures, 15 points against Mercer and 12 points against UNCG. He is third on the team with 8.9 points per game.
Hanner Mosquera-Perea is a talented shot blocker that is very athletic. He is going to be a threat under the glass for the Gators to contend with. He is second on the team averaging 4.6 in rebounding and he is fifth in scoring, averaging 8.4 points per game.
A lot is being said about Florida needing to play great transition defense, since ETSU is known for forcing a few turnovers. A.J. Merriweather is one to keep an eye on. He leads the team with steals with 1.6 per game. Merriweather is a very solid defender for ETSU, but he can also be quite versatile on offense and is fourth with points at 8.6.
Although those are the probable starting five, ETSU has plenty of depth. Forbes' bench has outscored its opponents 25 times this season. Devontavious Payne, a junior college transfer, is one guy that will be available. Payne shows great vision in open court and plays with great ball skills. He is definitely one to watch this week as well.
The Gators are 4-0 against the Buccaneers, however, have they have not faced each other since 1980.
Tip off for the game is set at 3:10 P.M. at the Amway Center in Orlando. The game is set to be televised on TruTV at the conclusion of the Virginia-UNV Wilmington contest. The winner of the game will face the winner of Florida's game on Saturday.