Florida Gators: Arizona Wildcats
Not surprisingly for the top player nationally in his class, Stone has an elite offer list a mile long but has a plan and is executing it to perfection.
Gators outlook: The difference for Florida this season is defense. Last season, UF gave up 40 percent shooting from 3-point range and got hurt by being overextended. This season, the Gators are staying home more and packing it in. Instead of playing out in passing lanes and denying, they are playing off more, not playing as far up the line, and showing their chests to the ball and building a wall to protect the lane and the rim. That has meant fewer help rotations and better defensive rebounding, limiting opponents to one challenged shot (outrebounding opponents by 10.7 per game). The results are obvious. Florida has a top-five defense, and has done it with both man-to-man and zone. The Gators still press, speed the game and make you play at a speed you don’t practice. And they have done a great job of not just forcing turnovers, but converting off turnovers. Florida has scored more than twice as many points off turnovers as its opponents (21.3 to 9.9).
On the offensive end, UF is a ball-screen team that can really stretch out a defense, and really attacks and gets to the free throw line. Florida has made more free throws than its opponents have attempted. Four Gators average between 14.4 points and 10.3 points per game. This is a team that scored 74 points against Wisconsin, a team that gave up only 53 points per game last season, and blasted Marquette and Florida State.
Florida has good, experienced guards in Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin, a strong presence in Patric Young (an interior player who, when he keeps it simple, can be really effective), and an elite and versatile defender in Will Yeguete, who can defend multiple spots, get offensive rebounds and affect the game without scoring.
Wildcats outlook: Last season, Arizona was not a great shooting team, but could not compensate for it with second-shot opportunities or post-ups because Sean Miller did not have the personnel. This season, he has the personnel. The Wildcats have great size up front and very good depth. (But don’t listen to those who suggest that having big-guy depth gives you extra fouls to waste, which is silly. You don’t waste fouls, which puts your opponent at the free throw line for common fouls and leads to losses.) With freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett, Miller has two big men who can affect the game. Tarczewski is a traditional low-post banger who seeks out contact and can score around the goal, and is the team's top rebounder. Jerrett is a long-armed big man who can step away and knock in an open 3-point shot.
The only top-10 matchup of the week takes place in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday night. Two 7-0 teams look to remain perfect when the eighth-ranked Arizona Wildcats host the fifth-ranked Florida Gators at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Fans at the McKale Center can only hope that this game will be as exciting as last year’s overtime thriller, won by Florida, 78-72.
Solomon Hill hit three free throws with 4 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime, when Erving Walker scored seven of Florida’s 12 points in the extra period to lead his team to the win.
Florida winning with ‘D’
The Gators have been one of the most dominant teams in the country at both ends of the floor during the first month.
Florida is ranked ninth in Division I in offensive efficiency and fourth in defensive efficiency. The only other team in the nation ranked in the top 10 in both of those categories is Indiana.
The Gators were strong offensively last season (sixth in offensive efficiency) but struggled defensively (135th in defensive efficiency). They have transformed themselves in several areas on the defensive end this year.
With that said, senior small forward Rondae Jefferson (Chester, Pa./Chester) isn’t a fan. “I don’t think that rule was all that,” Jefferson said. “It’s non-stop phone calls, and nobody wants to go through that. I just want to enjoy basketball.”
Within five minutes of the rule’s implementation, Jefferson had at least 12 missed phone calls and it was only shortly after midnight. Mark down Jefferson, ESPN’s No. 23 senior, as a “no” vote for the new rule.
“I don’t like it in my opinion," he said. "It affects the kids. When a coach gets that number he can (call) non-stop. ‘What are you doing? How are we going to make this work?’ This is the biggest decision of my life.”
Here's how they did it:
Our methodology was simple: We re-tallied the scores following signing day and ranked the schools based on total number of ESPNU 150 recruits (there have been 900) hauled in over the last six years. Of course, like success on the field, recruiting is cyclical -- and fans of programs both on and off this list might look back on Feb. 1, 2012 as the day their team began its rise (or fall) on the trail.
Here's the top 10:
3. USC 4. Alabama
5. Florida State
6. Notre Dame
T-10. Ohio State
Here's what it says about Florida:
The team handled adversity well
Final UCF 10 20 Missouri 38 Final Massachusetts 31 Vanderbilt 34 Final Arkansas 49 Texas Tech 28 Final 6 Georgia 35 24 South Carolina 38 Final Louisiana-Lafayette 15 14 Ole Miss 56 Final Mississippi State 35 South Alabama 3 Final Southern Miss 12 3 Alabama 52 Final Louisiana-Monroe 0 10 LSU 31 Final/3OT Kentucky 30 Florida 36 Final Tennessee 10 4 Oklahoma 34 Final Rice 10 7 Texas A&M 38