Same Programs, Different Teams

When Ohio State and Florida tip off against each other Saturday afternoon, it marks a rematch of last year's title game and will be the third contest between these two teams in one year. However, that is where the similarities end between the Buckeyes and Gators, who have both undergone significant personnel changes since they squared off last April in Atlanta.

One season ago, Ohio State faced Florida two times and both times came away with a loss.

When those two teams rematch on the court at Value City Arena Saturday afternoon, the similarities to last year's game begin and end with the names on the front of the jerseys for each team.

Not even the jersey colors will be similar, as the Buckeyes will wear their home white jerseys for the first time against the Gators. OSU head coach Thad Matta said the two teams were vastly different from the first time they faced each other last season when they rematched in the national championship game, but it would be a challenge to find a more different matchup this time.

Gone are eight overall NBA draft picks – six of whom went in the first round – and all but one starter from last year's national championship game. In their places step a handful of underclassmen tasked with living up to the expectations placed upon them by the success enjoyed one season ago.

"It was a lot of talent when you think about it, and a lot of that talent is gone, too," OSU senior forward Othello Hunter said. "They have a couple of guys who are still there and we have a couple of guys who are still here."

Four current members of Florida's roster have seen action against the Buckeyes, but just two of them played in the national championship. From the 85-74 Florida win in the title game, though, the Gators return two players who scored a combined seven points in 17 minutes of action.

The Gators start one junior, two sophomores and two freshmen, while OSU starts two seniors, a sophomore and two freshmen.

"It's a completely different game," Matta said.

Both teams enter the game unranked in the national polls, although the Gators are receiving votes to be ranked. Offensively, they are averaging 82.6 points per game and have allowed just one of their 12 opponents this season to score above their season average.

Despite all the new faces, there are still a few similarities between this year's Florida team and the one that twice defeated the Buckeyes a season ago. It's at least enough for senior guard Jamar Butler to give his teammates a few pieces of advice on the team.

"I don't want to say they're a lot different, but they're shooting a lot more threes this year where last year they were trying to pound the ball inside," Matta said. "I think they're using their skill a lot more than maybe their power."

That skill could force a change in OSU's defensive strategy. Matta said the team had been working on a secret defense that could potentially be unveiled against the Gators. Whether that comes to fruition or not, he hinted that the days of his team's 3-2 zone could be numbered.

Florida enters the game shooting 40.3 percent from beyond the arc, an attribute that could force OSU's hand as the game continues. However, Hunter said the Buckeyes work on their man-to-man defense for "about five minutes in practice."

Regardless of how the two teams come out Saturday afternoon, this is a game Butler has been waiting for. As the lone returning starter from last year's national championship game, Butler said he circled this game on his calendar as soon as he returned home from Atlanta.

In particular, he said he is excited to have the Gators on OSU's home court this time.

"It means a lot to get them on our home floor and to get another chance to play them this year," he said. "We're happy for that. They're a great team and they're going to come in here and put up a good fight, I know that."

While the Buckeyes admitted to a bit of a rivalry growing between the two squads, it does not appear that this will become an annual matchup. Matta said there have been no talks of making it an annual contest, and the decision to schedule the home-and-home series with the Gators came out of a desire to give the large OSU alumni base in Florida a chance to see the Buckeyes in action.

The end result left something to be desired, Matta said – and not just because of the 86-60 loss the Buckeyes endured.

"That was an opportunity for them but I don't think any of them got tickets," he said. "And we were down by 25 or whatever it was, and I remember saying to myself, ‘Boy, this really worked out well.' "

The game tips off at 4 p.m. and will be aired on CBS.

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