Gators Face Challenges in Kansas City

With three straight wins to open the season the Gator basketball team faces a much bigger challenge in the next two days. Florida will play Syracuse Monday night in the semi-finals of the CBE Classic. The Gators will play again Tuesday against wither Washington or Kansas.

A Kansas game would be great for the Gators in two ways. The Florida Gators would benefit from playing in a hostile pro-Kansas environment. Second, the Gators will get a good comparison for two upcoming games since Kansas has wins over future Florida opponents Missouri-Kansas City and Florida Gulf Coast.

But, first things first, and that's playing Syracuse. The Orange is 3-0 with two easy wins and a hard-earned 76-71 verdict over Richmond. Syracuse is led by an excellent backcourt of Jonny Flynn (20.7) and Eric Devendorf (15.3) that compares with any in the nation. Up front Florida will have to deal with 6-9, 275-pound Arinze Onuaku who is averaging 14.3 points and six rebounds a night. Syracuse also has a pretty unique player in 6-4 power wing Paul Harris who plays much bigger and more physical than his height would lend you to expect. And of course there's the Jim Boeheim 2/3 zone that they've been paying for years.

Florida coach Billy Donovan offered up his thoughts on the game.

"There's no question that Flynn is as good as any guard in the country. He's a great, great player. I think Devendorf coming off an injury gives them another experienced backcourt player who's very good off the dribble and very quick. Paul Harris is one of those undersized, really athletic forwards that are physical. He has great bounce off the floor and can put the ball on the floor. I think Syracuse is a team that may be somewhat similar to us in that on any given night they can beat anyone in the country. But also, there are probably a lot of teams that can beat the both of us. I think we're both trying to get better and improve, but in terms of talent and having someone who can run the show that's special, Flynn is special. They've got really good personnel."

Donovan was asked about how the Gators would go about defending a point guard with the talent and speed of Flynn.

"I think we've got to play him with four people. There's nobody on our team that can guard him. This is not even remotely close to (the Gators) having a Justin Hamilton or a Corey Brewer and say this guy has the ability to make life difficult for a guy like Flynn, that's just the reality of it. I don't know if there's anybody in the country that can guard him. That's how good he is. You're talking about maybe the best point guard in the country.

LV: Is it accurate to say they're really easy to prepare for because you know what they are going to do, but they're tough to play because they do what they do very well?

"Well, there's no question, but the thing that's been interesting is they've played all man-to-man (defense). They've not played one possession of zone since the season started."

LV: Did someone kidnap Boeheim?

"I don't know, but they've really gone there. Now we'll definitely prepare for the zone, there's no question about that, but they have been a man-to-man team. They've shown some possessions of zone, but they've been primarily a man-to-man team this year."

Okay, so he contradicted himself a bit there on the zone issue, but it is interesting that the foremost zone advocate in college basketball would change at this stage of his coaching career. Then again, perhaps that was to throw Florida and other opponents off track or make them work on additional things in preparation. I suppose we shall see.

As for the Gators, they go into this contest after surviving a miserable shooting night in a win over Southern Utah. Florida is led by Nick Calathes (15.7) and Dan Werner (15.0) who are the only two Gators scoring in double figures. Florida will still be limited to nine scholarship players since neither Adam Allen nor Eloy Vargas is close to being ready to play. Take away those two and Jai Lucas and Florida's apparent improvement in depth is pretty much gone, at least for now.

Game is set for 7:30. The loser plays at the same time Tuesday while the winner will play at 9:45 if not later.

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