Friday, March 23, 2012
Florida-Louisville: 5 things to watch
By Michael DiRocco
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.
Teacher vs. student: Louisville coach Rick Pitino coached Billy Donovan at Providence and the New York Knicks and hired him as an assistant coach at Kentucky, but Pitino has not been very friendly when it comes to coaching against his former player. Pitino is 6-0 against Donovan, including four victories while he was coaching at Kentucky and two at Louisville. Pitino is 19-2 all-time against Florida, with a 17-2 mark while he was at Kentucky and 2-0 at Louisville. Pitino has beaten the Gators 12 consecutive times.
On the bench: The contributions Florida has gotten from reserves Mike Rosario and Casey Prather in the NCAA tournament has been a big part of the team's success, but largely unnoticed has been the play of point guard Scottie Wilbekin. The sophomore is averaging 3.7 points per game (up from the 2.3 he averaged in SEC play) and he has been selective and effective when he shoots from long range, making 3-of-6 3-pointers. He's averaging 19.0 minutes per game and has turned the ball over just twice in the three games. He's one of the Gators' toughest players and has spent time playing some power forward to help replace Will Yeguete despite being only 6-2.
Where is Kenny Boynton? The Gators have won three NCAA tournament games despite a shooting slump by Boynton, who is still the Gators' leading scorer (16.0 ppg) despite his huge dropoff in March. Boynton shot 46.3 percent from the field and 43.9 percent from 3-point range through February, but those numbers have dropped off dramatically this month. Boynton is shooting 31.0 percent from the field and just 21.2 percent from 3-point range (7-for-33) in his last six games. Boynton did have 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting (2-of-7 from 3-point range) against Norfolk State, but he went just 2-for-10 from the field and 1-for-5 from 3-point range against Marquette. He has a history of breaking out of a slump in a big way, and the Gators may need that if Louisville's length bothers Walker.