Gators Can Improve Resume in Raleigh

The Gator basketball team has done a solid job thus far, posting a 10-3 record against a significantly tougher pre-SEC schedule. The highlight was the week that saw Billy Donovan's team post wins over Florida State, Michigan State and Rutgers vaulting the team into the national rankings.

That start was offset to some extent with consecutive losses to Syracuse, Richmond and South Alabama. The loss to the Jaguars was clearly the most damaging. The Gators can regain some of that mojo Sunday when they face NC State in Raleigh. It's the first true road game for Donovan's squad even though the Gators have played five games away from home.

The Wolfpack, like the Gators are 10-3 and also need a "statement" type win over an opponent from a major conference. Their best win is over Marquette while their losses have come to Northwestern, Wake Forest and Arizona.

N.C. State is led by powerfully built (6-8, 247) forward Tracy Smith (17.2/9.1) who is a threat for a double-double every night. Dennis Horner (13.8/4.8) provides front court support while Miami Krop graduate Javier Gonzalez (11.6/4.7, 5 assists) is an excellent all around guard. State would prefer to keep the game in the 60s so look for Florida to try and push a faster pace.

The Gators will be without reserve center Kenny Kadji who is trying to decide whether or not to have surgery to repair a disc in his back. Donovan is hopeful that swing man Ray Shipman will be able to return from a knee injury and give the Gators some minutes. Florida has had to use walk on Kyle McClanahan extensively in the last two games.

Florida coach Billy Donovan shared his thoughts on NC State and more.


On the strengths of the Wolfpack:

"I think they have a guy in Tracy Smith who is as good as any front court player in the country. He is their key guy on the inside. Then you look at Gonzalez in the back court and Horner who is a very good shooter and a good player. I think they are team that's very good offensively. They are a team that's not necessarily scoring a lot of points, but a lot of that is the tempo and pace that they play at. I think who controls the tempo in the game is going to be a big factor. They are a team that's dangerous in a lot of ways because they have the ability to shoot the ball outside the 3-point line and they can go inside for points."

What makes Smith so good?

I think Smith has phenomenal hands. He's one of those guys when he in the lane that whenever he touches the ball he comes down with it, he grabs it. That is a great attribute for a front court player because a lot of time you are playing in traffic."

On facing a true road game on someone else's court:

"We did play Jacksonville on the road, but that was really more of a home crowd environment for us. I would say the only really true road game that we played where it felt like a road game was Michigan State. Clearly in New Jersey (Atlantic City) they had the majority of the crowd there. And even the Rutgers situation where they clearly had the majority of the crowd. Those two games, even though they weren't on the teams' home court they felt like road games. This is the first true road game and I think it's a good for us right now."

On whether Shipman would be back (as of Friday morning):

"I don't know. Yesterday we worked him out for about 20-25 minutes and he did okay. I think the biggest fear with Ray is if he tweaks it again or hurts it again it will set him back that much further. We'll probably throw him out there a little bit today and see how he responds, but as long as he's feeling any discomfort in the knee I would say he's going to be held out."


A win over NC State would probably undo the damage of the South Alabama loss and put Florida in a good position entering SEC play next week. The Gators have one more non-conference game against Xavier team on February 13. That game could also serve as a resume builder.

According to Florida ranks No. 50 entering the calendar year with two wins over top 50 teams in Michigan State (28) and FSU (32). The losses to Syracuse (4) and Richmond (45) didn't hurt, but that South Alabama (181) setback sticks out like a sore thumb. Florida's rating is also hurt by the presence of five teams that have a rating of 300 or higher, something they had hoped to eliminate in this year's schedule.

As for the SEC, has five teams rated higher than the Gators. As usual Kentucky sets the pace at 12. Mississippi State is next at 15, followed by Tennessee at 19, Ole Miss at 31 and Vandy is 48. Florida has eight games against those teams and if they can win half of them they will likely return to the big dance.

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