The Florida Gators had to go into overtime to beat Auburn on the road 84-78 on Wednesday. They defeated Arkansas 82-74 in their conference opener and, along with Kentucky, now lead the SEC Eastern Division. Overall, they are 10-3, with non-conference home losses to Miami (72-65) and Louisville (74-70), and a 82-69 whipping at Florida State. Their beat non-conference win was over Providence 84-66, the other victories being over lesser opposition.
Billy Donovan (right) is in his ninth year as Head Coach. His record is 179-87 at Florida. Twice he has won the SEC title (2000, 2001) and has led the Gators into the NCAA tournament for seven consecutive years. Before coming to Florida he was an assistant coach at Kentucky under Rick Pitino for five years and head coach at Marshall for two years, where he had a record of 35-19. His teams have been noted more for their ability to put points on the board, especially by shooting three pointers, than for defense. However, his best teams have effectively used the Pitino-style defense, with frequent full-court pressing.
6-6 junior wing player Matt Walsh has been sidelined with a severe ankle sprain for the past three games, and probably will not play in this game. He had been the leading scorer for the Gators (16.0 ppg) and was shooting 45.1% from the three-point zone.
In Walsh's absence, 6-1 junior Anthony Roberson (left) has increased his point production and now leads the Gators with 16.9 ppg. In the Auburn game he scored 32 points, his best output so far this season. He is an extremely dangerous outside shooter (41.7%) who usually takes 12-16 shots in a game. He starts at point guard (2.8 assists per game) and, beside his outside shooting, has been driving to the basket enough to get a significant number of free throws (hitting 89.2%).
Roberson has been getting a lot of help at the point from 6-0 freshman Taurean Green (5.2 ppg). Green leads the Gators in assists (3.5 per game) and his presence often allows Roberson to move over to shooting guard, where he is more comfortable. Green is a good ball-handler, very quick, and more of a driver than an outside shooter, although he is making a third of his outside efforts. He is likely to get about 20 minutes of playing time against Vanderbilt.
With Walsh out, 6-2 sophomore Lee Humphrey (right) has moved back into the starting lineup. He started late last season after Christian Drejer abruptly quit the team, and actually hit the winning shot in one game. He is scoring 6.1 ppg and connecting on 37.5% of his threes. About two-thirds of his shots come from the three-point zone. On defense, he is fundamentally sound and reliable.
6-9 senior David Lee (left) is back at one of the post positions and is having another good year. He is easily the leading rebounder (6.7 per game) and is scoring 12.7 ppg. He has been playing about 25 minutes per game, but his playing time is going up since conference play began. He is always capable of 15-20 points in a game.
6-8 freshman Al Horford has moved into the starting lineup at the other post, ahead of 6-9 junior Adrian Moss and 6-8 sophomore Chris Richard. Horford, son of former NBA player Tito Horford, is scoring 6.8 ppg, grabbing 5.2 rebounds, and is the best shotblocker on the team. Moss is averaging 3.0 ppg and 2.8 rebounds. Richard, a 245-pounder is scoring 3.6 ppg and pulling down 2.6 rebounds.
6-8 freshman Corey Brewer (right) is the fifth starter. He is the team's defensive specialist, often being assigned to guard the top gun of the opposition, nimble enough to handle smaller players and tall enough to guard big ones. He is scoring 7.5 ppg, nearly all of his points coming from close in, and was strongly recruited by Vanderbilt.
Florida has considerable depth. Two other players are likely to see action, 6-11 freshman Joakim Noah, and 6-4 freshman Cornelius Ingram. Noah, son of one-time tennis star Yannick Noah, is very slender but a good scorer (4.9 ppg). Ingram (2.4 ppg) has not seen as much action as the others.
In summary, assuming that Walsh does not play, look for a starting lineup of one senior (Lee), one junior (Roberson), one sophomore (Humphrey), and two freshmen (Horford and Brewer). Last season Florida was the youngest team in the conference, and even now Lee is the only senior and Moss, Walsh, and Roberson the only juniors. Six players are 6-8 or taller (Brewer, Horford, Lee, Moss, Noah, Richard).
Playing before the home crowd in Memorial Gym, Vanderbilt should have a definite advantage on this young (if talented) team. Florida has not, for the past two years, played the tough full-court defense that Donovan would prefer, probably because Roberson and Walsh are better scorers than defenders. Despite their height and depth the Gators don't consistently win the board battle. This figures to be a Vanderbilt victory in the range of seven to 15 points.
Photo Credits: Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey by Scout.com; Anthony Roberson and Billy Donovan by Phil Sandlin of the AP; David Lee by Univ. of Florida; Memorial Gym by Vanderbilt Univ.