NIT Match-up Rings Familiar

When the Florida Gators take on the Arizona State Sun Devils tonight in Tempe there will be an unusual number of similarities between the two teams and on the two benches.

Arizona State is coached by Herb Sendek who was a grad assistant at Providence when Donovan played there. The two later coached together at Kentucky and Sendek was on the Gators' short list 12 years ago when Jeremy Foley hired Billy Donovan.

Both teams are incredibly young. Florida starts a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen. ASU is a tad younger with just one sophomore and three freshmen in the probable starting lineup with a single junior.

The two schools were among the last five or six teams left out of the NCAA Tournament, but likely needing two more wins to make it into the field.

Both teams posted .500 marks in their respective conferences, but were penalized for weak non-conference schedules. As a result, Florida had an RPI of 72 despite wins over Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Temple. Arizona State's RPI was 83 even though they beat arch-rival Arizona twice, Southern Cal and Stanford.

The Gators started the season 18-3 before losing eight of their last 11 games. The Sun Devils were 14-2, but dropped 10 of their final 15 contests. Both teams have righted themselves since accepting NIT bids and take two game winning streaks into tonight's contest.

Each team's best player is a freshman. Florida's Nick Calathes has been remarkably productive, scoring 15.6 points a game with 5.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists. James Harden leads the Sun Devils with 17.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Harden leads ASU with 72 steals and Calathes tops the Gators in that category (56) as well.

Each team has one primary big man. For the Gators it's Marreese Speights (14.5/7.7) while State counters with 6-9 Jeff Pendergraph (12.3/6.5).

Style is Key Difference

Even though both Donovan and Sendek are products of the Rick Pitino coaching tree, they have very different approaches to the game. Sendek is a defense first guy who is most comfortable with games in the sixties. Donovan is one of the best offensive coaches in the business and his teams are always among the highest scoring squads in the SEC. On the season, ASU has an average score of 67-62. The Gators average game is 78-68.

This one could very well come down to tempo. If the Gators can force the pace and make Arizona State play in the 70s or above, advantage Florida. However if the Sun Devils can force Florida into longer possessions and sub-standard shooting they will be in a much better position to win.

These teams have so much in common it's sorta freaky. If they played 10 times they'd probably split 5-5. But this isn't a 10-game series; it's a one game shot at a trip to New York. To me the key guy is Speights. If he's assertive on both ends of the floor the Gators will win. If not, the season ends tonight.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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