Scouting Report: Florida
If Vanderbilt wants to find a way to the top of the SEC East, it is very important for it to find a way to beat Billy Donovan's team in the O'Connell Center. VU currently sits a game and a half behind the Gators; with two games remaining against Kentucky plus return games against the Gators and that certain squad from Knoxville, a two and a half-game deficit might be more than Vandy can handle if Kevin Stallings's team has designs on a conference championship.
The more immediate goal, however, is another quality win on the road. After crossing that bridge by getting one at Mississippi State, one more road win – this one over a ranked team – would bode well for a three-game stretch culminating in the February 12 showdown with John Calipari's club.
The Gators found themselves in a situation Saturday against Mississippi State that was very similar to the one the Dores faced against Arkansas. While Vanderbilt overlooked the Hogs in an obvious sandwich game, Florida was coming off a win at Georgia while looking forward to home matchups against two ranked teams, Vandy and Kentucky, plus a revenge game at South Carolina. Instead, the Gators suffered a six-point loss in Starkville.
Consistency has been lacking in Gainesville this season. While Donovan's club sits in first place in the SEC East, a half-game ahead of Kentucky, UF also has two inexplicable losses on its resume, a neutral-site loss to a (now-) plummeting Central Florida squad and a home-court face-plant versus Jacksonville. This inconsistency is also evident in Florida's earlier matchups this season against top-10 opponents. While it fell to then-No. 5 Ohio State by 18 back in November, it also handled then-No. 6 Kansas State on December 18, 57-44.
Despite the lack of consistency, Florida has an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to entrench itself at the top of the SEC East standings. While this upcoming stretch of Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee is by no means an easy part of the schedule, the Gators only need to leave Gainesville once before February 20, when they travel to South Carolina on February 9.
Center – Vernon Macklin – Senior, 6-10, 245; 2010-11: 11.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg,
The Georgetown transfer, now in his second season in Gainesville, still gets lost in the Gators' outside-in offensive style. He simply does not get the touches he should with his size and strength. When Macklin does get the ball, he is very efficient with it. He shoots .578 from the field, which is actually slightly below his field goal percentage from a year ago. If Vandy needs to foul late in a game, Macklin is the guy to put on the line. He makes only 40 percent of his free throws.
Forward – Alex Tyus – Senior, 6-8, 220; 2010-11: 9.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg
Tyus continues to have difficulty in the Florida offense due to his inability to stretch a defense with any regularity. Though standing at 6-8, he's unable to anchor himself on the block with Macklin's presence there. However, he has never been able to establish a jump shot that will make him a regular offensive threat. Where Tyus is dangerous to opponents is in transition. Since he is long and athletic, Tyus is able to get out in front of opposing forwards and provide a big target for Erving Walker when his guard is looking downcourt.
Forward – Chandler Parsons – Senior, 6-10, 218; 2010-11: 10.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, .379 3-PT %
While Parsons has earned a reputation the past two seasons as a "lights-out" shooter, he did not show that level of ability against Vanderbilt last season. The Commodores held him to eight and three points respectively in the two Vandy-Florida games a year ago, and he did not make a single 3-point shot (a pronounced contrast to his 2009 outings against the Dores). This has to be attributed to the defense of Jeffery Taylor. While Parsons has quietly developed physicality to his game in the past year, he is nowhere near the athlete Taylor is. This matchup may be the difference in Vanderbilt's favor Tuesday night.
Guard – Kenny Boynton – Sophomore, 6-2, 183; 2010-11: 13.0 ppg, 2.5 assists per game, .298 3-PT %
Boynton was the typical freshman phenom last year. He would put up big numbers one game, only to be a non-factor in another. While his overall scoring has improved in his sophomore campaign, his shooting percentage has not – he is still shooting below 30 percent beyond the arc. If not for his excellent foul shooting (82 percent), Boynton would appear to be an underachiever. It will be interesting to see how coach Stallings approaches this matchup. Will he go with Tinsley, who may have the height to contest his shooting, but is left open to attack off the dribble? Or will he go with John Jenkins, thus allowing Vandy's sophomore guard to help on Walker's dribble penetration? My hunch is Jenkins.
Guard – Erving Walker – Junior, 5-8, 171; 2010-11: 14.4 ppg, 3.3 apg, .395 3-PT %
The diminutive point guard from Brooklyn, New York, has improved in each of his three seasons playing for Donovan. Walker has been particularly effective as of late, hitting double figures in scoring in 11 of his past 12 games. Last year he suffered from much of the same inconsistencies that affected Boynton, but this year Walker has improved his shooting by 10 percent, now making 43 percent of his shots. Walker has also looked for his own shot a little bit more this season than he did a year ago. Maybe it is new level of confidence or a little bit of selfishness, but at any rate, the junior is a dangerous threat. Look for Tinsley to start out defending him, but Vandy will be in trouble should Walker decide to attack the middle of the Commodore defense. Should that happen, expect Stallings to bring out the zone again to see if Florida will stand and shoot instead of running an effective offense.
The starters do most of Florida's scoring, but there is a bright future in Gainesville for a couple of players on the Gator bench. Patric Young was a five-star recruit for Billy Donovan. Young, a center, shoots nearly 60 percent from the field, but like many big men in Florida's offense, often gets left out. Erik Murphy is a forward in the mold of Chandler Parsons, making 35 percent of his 3-pointers.
Keys to the Game
1) Chandler Parsons' Project. Last year, Vanderbilt took advantage of Parsons' inability to defend in man-to-man defense and – for good measure – Jeff Taylor's ability to contest Parsons at the other end of the floor. Not many coaches in the SEC have a weapon like Taylor; Parsons is frequently able to catch and shoot against most opponents, but not against VU and the length of Taylor. Conversely, when Vanderbilt has the ball, it then needs to make Parsons a defender, something that is not easy for him to do against an athlete of Taylor's stature. If Donovan insists on staying in a man defense and hopes to hide Parsons on Jenkins, Jenkins needs to recognize that and attack him off the dribble. Even when Florida runs its zone, Vandy needs to drive to Parsons' area of the zone to force the defense to collapse.
2) Keep in front of Erving Walker. While Walker is a much improved shooter, he makes Florida better offensively when he is able to dribble into the heart of a defense and create scoring chances for his teammates. Whether Brad Tinsley or John Jenkins draw the assignment on Walker, they need to be cognizant of Walker's drive and make him work for penetration opportunities. Further, if Walker and the other Florida guards stand and shoot, it slows down the tempo into a pace benefiting Vanderbilt. The fact still remains that one of Florida's biggest offensive deficiencies is its tendency to hoist threes early in the shot clock without good ball movement. If the Gators want to pursue fool's good, Vandy needs to let them do so. It's in the realm of dribble penetration that VU has to be especially vigilant; denying driving lanes to Walker will be very important tonight.
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