Florida Gators: Marquette Golden Eagles

Joel Embiid's recruitment gaining steam 

September, 6, 2012
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The last time he had a national audience, center Joel Embiid (Cameroon/The Rock) was on the wrong side of a clinic at the hands of Brandon Ashley. Then a junior center for Montverde, Embiid was given the unenviable task of trying to slow down a grooving Ashley. He didn’t and Montverde succumbed to Findlay Prep in the NHSI championship.

[+] EnlargeJoel Embiid
Paul BiancardiCenter Joel Embiid is currently not ranked in the ESPN 100, but expect him to have a major impact down the line at Kansas.
A lot has changed since last March. For starters, Embiid is no longer at Montverde. The near 7-footer transferred to The Rock in Gainesville, Fla. With Dakari Johnson (New York/Montverde) gobbling up court time, Embid might not have seen as much playing time as he would have liked, so he bolted.

“He is a surprise to me and a pleasant one at that,” The Rock coach Justin Harden said. “He’s every bit of 6-11. He can do a lot of good things with the ball. He’s only been playing 18 months. Was a volleyball player before that.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here are five things to watch for in Saturday's Florida-Louisville matchup in the Elite 8 (4:30 p.m. ET on CBS) in Phoenix, Ariz.

Man in the middle: Louisville center Gorgui Dieng presents the same kind of trouble for the Gators as Kentucky's Anthony Davis. He's a shot-blocking machine who should make smaller guards Erving Walker (5-foot-8) and Kenny Boynton (6-1) think twice about driving the lane. The 6-11 Dieng already has Louisville's single-season blocks record (123 and counting) and is averaging 9.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Against Michigan State on Thursday, Dieng tied his career high with seven blocks and added nine rebounds, five points and three steals. He's had at least five blocks in a game 11 times this season. Florida can't allow him to control the paint the way he did against the Spartans. It'll be up to 6-9 center Patric Young to make Dieng guard him and try to get him in foul trouble.

Defense, defense, defense: Louisville isn't particularly big, but the Cardinals are long and athletic, and those are the kind of teams the Gators have struggled with the past few seasons. Louisville has been thriving because of its defense. The Cardinals are third nationally in field goal percentage defense (37.7 percent) and have been fantastic in the NCAA tournament, limiting Davidson to 35 percent from the field and holding New Mexico to 56 points, which was its fourth-lowest point total of the season. Michigan State managed just 44 points, including 18 in the first half. Florida's defense has held its three NCAA tournament opponents to an average of 51.0 points and Virginia, Norfolk State and Marquette shot a combined 20.6 percent from 3-point range (13-for-63) and 31.5 percent from the field. The Gators are also averaging 43.0 rebounds per game in the NCAA tournament, which has limited opponents' second shot opportunities.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here are five things to watch for in tonight's Florida-Marquette matchup in the Sweet 16 (10:17 p.m. ET on TBS) in Phoenix, Ariz.

Who wins the 3-point line? Florida was terrible from long range in its victory over Virginia (4-for-23) but rebounded with a 10-f0r-28 performance against Norfolk State. The Gators, who average a nation-leading 10 3-pointers per game, have been streaky from long range all season. Marquette's 3-point defense in the NCAA tournament has been pretty good. BYU and Murray State combined to go just 11-for-40 (27.5 percent) from 3-point range. Teams are shooting just 31.8 percent from 3-point range against the Golden Eagles this season.

Stopping Crowder: Marquette forward Jae Crowder was the Big East Player of the Year, and the 6-foot-6 senior has been nearly unstoppable in his last 10 games. Crowder is averaging 21.4 points and 10.7 rebounds and has posted seven double-doubles in that span. He also is averaging 3.1 steals and 2.5 assists and is shooting 51.7 percent from the field in those 10 games. This is a game where not having 6-7 forward Will Yeguete will hurt the Gators, but 6-6 sophomore Casey Prather did a good job against Virginia's Mike Scott. He'll be called upon again to help stop Crowder.

A small advantage: Florida doesn't have a size advantage over many teams, but the Gators are a bit bigger than the Golden Eagles in the frontcourt. Center Patric Young (6-9) and forward Erik Murphy (6-10) have a 2-4 inch height advantage over Crowder and 6-7 forward Jamil Wilson. Will that make a difference, though? Marquette is a solid rebounding team, but the difference could be Bradley Beal. The 6-3 freshman guard is UF's leading rebounder (6.7 per game) and is averaging 8.4 rebounds per game in March.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Florida lost Will Yeguete to a broken foot in late February, Billy Donovan knew his team was going to have to undergo a makeover.

[+] EnlargeWill Yeguete
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida forward Will Yeguete broke his foot against Auburn on Feb. 21.
Guards Bradley Beal, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin would have to spend time at power forward to make up for the loss of the Gators’ best rebounder and post defender. UF wouldn’t be as big inside or rebound as well as when the 6-foot-7 Yeguete was on the floor, but using a four-guard lineup would put more 3-point shooters on the floor and allow the Gators to play more in transition.

But reshaping his team’s identity wasn’t going to be that simple. There was so much else for Donovan to consider:

" How would center Patric Young handle playing without his best friend and roommate?

" How do you defend while using the four-guard lineup, especially against a team that has a powerful front court, like Kentucky with Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones?

" How do you avoid becoming predictable offensively when there are four guards and forward Erik Murphy – who at 6-10 is UF’s best 3-point shooter (43.1 percent) – on the floor?

" And, perhaps most importantly, how do the players respond mentally to the challenge of having to do it all during the final weeks of the regular season and into the post-season?

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Lost in Florida’s impressive blowout victories over Virginia and Norfolk State is the improved play of guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker.

The two still aren’t shooting well from 3-point range -- a combined 3-for-17 -- but they have been much more under control in terms of shot selection and not driving into the lane without a plan and getting caught without anywhere to go with the ball.

[+] EnlargeErving Walker
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesUF coach Billy Donovan wants Erving Walker to take the open shots, but Walker has had to make serious adjustments to his play to accommodate running the offense, too.
Walker has been particularly effective. He has five assists and four turnovers in the two games, but he has been smart with the basketball in the lane. He hasn’t tried to drive and shoot over much bigger players -- like he did against Kentucky’s Anthony Davis.

He’s playing his smartest basketball of the season, and it’s coming at the perfect time, with the Gators (25-10) heading into Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup with Marquette (27-7). Even though this is Walker’s third season as a starter, it’s the first in which he hasn't had an experienced frontcourt, and that makes a difference, UF coach Billy Donovan said.

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Sorting through bracket, recruiting style! 

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
12:09
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The past few days, conspiracy theorists have picked apart the NCAA tournament bracket. Why are Duke and Kentucky in the same bracket 20 years after “The Shot.” Roy Williams vs. Bill Self? In St. Louis? And the list goes on.

Allow me to pick apart the bracket from my own angle through the lens of a recruiting junkie. I’ll try to keep the conspiracies out of the mix and hit you with just the chilling facts of what’s going on behind the scenes as these teams meet.

If Missouri and Florida win … Frank Haith will get to rekindle a relationship with Gators guard Kenny Boynton. A native of the Miami area, Boynton made an official visit to Miami during the tenure of Haith. Missouri power forward Ricardo Ratliffe was also once considered a Florida lean.

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