Gators Look to Make Another Statement

The No. 10 ranked Florida Gators have already made their mark in the pre-conference schedule with wins over Florida State, Michigan State and Rutgers. Tonight they look to get the attention of the basketball world once again when they battle No. 7 Syracuse in Tampa.

The game features a pair of 8-0 teams that rely on balance offensively and holding opponents to low shooting percentages on the other end of the floor. That's quite a change from a year ago when these teams met in Kansas City with Syracuse winning an 89-83 shootout.

Syracuse is led by one of the nation's top wing players in 6-7 Wes Johnson who shoots like a "2" (.531 from 3-point arc) and rebounds like a power forward (7.3). Johnson is supported by 6-9 center Arinze Onuaku (12.5/4.1) and freshman guard Brandon Triche (11.5). Five other players score between 7.6 and 9.9 points a game giving the team a variety of weapons no matter what the personnel on the floor happens to be.

Syracuse is noted for its 2-3 zone defense and that scheme has been very effective this year forcing 21 turnovers a game. The Orange also block more than eight shots a night. Their big win came over North Carolina (87-71) in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

The Gators come into this game after a pair of so-so performances against FAMU (80-59) and JU (85-67). Florida won each game comfortably, but struggled to put away the two winless squads. The Gators have had five days off since the win in Jacksonville last Friday.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan discusses the match up and other factors.

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On facing Syracuse:

"It's pretty remarkable what they've been able to do when you look at the number of blocked shots they're managing per game, (and) the amount of turnovers they're forcing per game. They have a very long, rangy team. They have good size. They can play Onuaku and (Rick) Jackson together up front which are two big strong physical guys. They really rebound well and have shot blocking."

On what the Gators need to do:

"We're going to have to do a good job playing against man and zone on the offensive end of the floor and get good ball movement and good spacing. I think a lot of time against a zone you can get caught just shooting 3s. I think we're going to have to shoot threes and make threes, but I also think we're going to have to get the ball into the teeth of their defense as well."

On coping with the multi-talented Johnson:

"He's a very gifted, talented player. He's a guy who can post you up and score inside and he's also a guy who can shoot it deep. I think in last year's game we had some deficiencies at the small forward spot defending. He's a terrific player but I think the one thing that's good about Dan (Werner) and Chandler (Parsons) is both guys do have range and size. Dan has played post defense throughout his career here and I think he's good at it. Now that he's being more of a small forward he's had the opportunity to play a lot of guys on the perimeter."

On the SEC/Big East Shootout and two top 10 teams playing in Tampa:

"I think it's good for the state. I also think what's been good for the state too is when you look at Florida State's off to having a good year and they won a tournament in Orlando. You look at South Florida's off to a pretty good start, Jacksonville is picked to win their league and Miami's done well. We're playing a game against Syracuse in Tampa. I think all of those things are positive for basketball in the state of Florida."

On importance of doing well against big schools in other leagues:

"I've said before, I think one of the things that happened last year our league in some of these events did not do particularly well as a whole. (This year) We had a chance to play Florida State and win that game, Rutgers in the Big East and win that game and Michigan State and win that game against the Big Ten. This is another opportunity for our league (because) when you play in these types of games they're always good for you. You're going to learn a lot about your team. Those are the type of things going into December that ultimately help out your RPI. This is a great opportunity for our team and I do think when teams in the league win and beat teams from around the country it's always a positive."


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