Southeastern Conference play begins Saturday night for the Gators, and the visitors not only are coming off a season where they shared the Western Division crown, they are among the favorites to do so again.
However, there is a big difference in the talent-heavy East and Mississippi’s only so-so West.
The RPIs bear this out.
In the West, only the Rebels (12-3) have an RPI in the nation’s top-60 (they sit 55th). The East, meanwhile, includes five teams with RPIs in the top-60.
Kentucky (12-2) is the highest, with an RPI of five. The Gators (11-3) aren’t far back at 13. Tennessee (10-4) is 27th and Georgia (11-2) is 58th.
Of the Eastern teams, only South Carolina (9-4, RPI 160) ranks low. Still, even that number would be third in the West, behind Mississippi and Arkansas (10-3, RPI 140).
So, while the rest of the West doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of resistance, Ole Miss just might.
While not quite as balanced as UF, which has all five starters averaging between 9.3 and 13.9 points-a-game, the Rebels have four starters averaging between 8.6 and 18.5 points for the season.
However, Florida has owned this series of late, winning eight of the last nine meetings, including last February’s 64-61 victory in Oxford. The Gators also have won five straight at home in the series, by an average margin of 19 points.
In fact, UF handled not just the Rebels, but the entire West last season, going 6-0. And that domination has been in effect since 2000, as UF has gone 54-16 (29-4 at home) against the other division.
If the Gators continue to play like they did in their two most recent outings – comfortable wins at Xavier and home against Rhode Island – they will get off to a great start in conference play.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR
1. Rebels’ senior Chris Warren, an Orlando native, is one of the SEC’s best guards and is second in the league in scoring at 18.5 ppg. In order to win, Ole Miss likely needs a big game out of its point guard. Will UF be able to slow him down?
2. Mississippi enters the contest averaging 78.1 points-a-game, third-best in the SEC. Florida, meanwhile, is allowing just 59.4 ppg. Obviously, something has to give here. What will it be, the Rebels’ offense or Florida’s defense?
3. Gator senior center Vernon Macklin has nursed knee and shoulder injuries this year, yet he has remained effective. The possibility exists he will be guarded by a 6-foot-8 freshman (Demarco Cox). Will Macklin be able to dominate this matchup?
4. These are two very good rebounding teams. Florida enters with a plus-8.5 average rebounding margin, while Ole Miss is at plus-6.0. Who will win the battle of the boards?
5. Gator junior point guard Erving Walker needs just 14 points to reach 1,000 for his career. Will he reach the milestone during this game, and, if so, when?
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR/ANSWERS FROM
1. Who will be the Gator called upon to defend Rhode Island standout Delroy James the most, and how will he do?
Answer: The Gators used a variety of defenders, and James finished with a game-high 23 points and six rebounds. He was pretty much all of Rhode Island’s offense.
2. Vernon Macklin had to leave the victory against Xavier with a shoulder injury. He did return to the game and participated in the Gators’ most recent practice. Will the injury hinder him?
Answer: The injury was significant enough to warrant giving freshman Patric Young his first career start at center. However, Macklin did play and contributed six points, three rebounds and a blocked shot in 22 minutes.
3. Erving Walker has scored between 18 and 21 points in each of the last three games. Can he continue his scoring run?
Answer: Walker finished with 14 points, five assists and a pair of steals. I awarded Chandler Parsons the “player of the game”, but many readers said they felt Walker deserved the nod.
4. Following UF’s two previous “biggest victories of the season”, the Gators came back with a loss. Can they reverse that trend here, just a few days after snapping Xavier’s 30-game homecourt winning streak?
Answer: The Gators looked tremendous, earning their second consecutive “A” grade from this writer. They dominated start-to-finish.
5. Florida backup power forward Erik Murphy is a Rhode Island native. He isn’t going home for this one, but no doubt he is excited. How will he fare?
Answer: Murphy missed the game with a sprained foot. He was scheduled to miss 5-10 days.
GAME 15 PREVIEW
FLORIDA GATORS (11-3)
Position: Players, Height/Weight, Year, 2010-11 statistics
G: Erving Walker, 5-8/171, JR, 13.9 points per game, 3.1 assists per game
G: Kenny Boynton, 6-2/183, SO, 12.3 points per game, 2.6 assists per game
F: Chandler Parsons, 6-10/218, SR, 9.9 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game
F: Alex Tyus, 6-8/220, SR, 9.3 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game
C: Vernon Macklin, 6-10/240, SR, 10.5 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game
Head coach: Billy Donovan (342-142 in 15th season at Florida; 377-162 in 17th season as a head coach)
MISSISSIPPI REBELS (12-3)
Position: Players, Height/Weight, Year, 2010-11 statistics
G: Chris Warren, 5-10/168, SR, 18.5 points per game, 4.3 assists per game
G:Nick Williams, 6-4/215, SO, 8.6 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game
G: Zach Graham, 6-6/210, SR, 14.1 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game
F: Terrance Henry, 6-10/210, JR, 8.8 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game
C: Demarco Cox, 6-8/295, FR, 2.5 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game
Head coach: Andy Kennedy (97-53 in fifth season at Mississippi, and 118-66 in six years overall)
When: Saturday, Jan. 8 at 8 p.m.
Where: Stephen C. O’Connell Center
TV/Radio: CSS/Gator Radio Network/Sirius 121/XM 141
Tickets: Available. Contact the University of Florida ticket office at (352) 374-4683 ex: 6800, or visit www.gatorzone.com.
Notable: Entering Saturday night, these two programs have played exactly 100 times. Florida holds a 58-42 series lead. … UF is 22-2 all-time when Walker dishes out at least five assists. … Walker and sophomore shooting guard Kenny Boynton have combined for 56 of Florida’s 77 three-pointers this season. … Walker is averaging 17.2 ppg over his last five games, the best scoring stretch of the year so far for any Gator player. For the year Walker is making 45.1-percent of his three-point attempts, easily the best on Florida’s roster. … The Gators have 73 offensive rebounds combined in their four most recent games. For the year UF is averaging 13.9 offensive boards-a-game. Florida leads the SEC in offensive rebound percentage (42.2). … Rhode Island entered Monday’s game averaging 8.3 made three-pointers. The Gators limited the Rams to just 4-of-23 from deep. … Chandler Parsons’ 18 points against URI gave him 1,184 for his career, third-best among active players in the SEC. That total moves him past Taurean Green (1,174) and Parsons’ former college, high school and AAU teammate, Nick Calathes (1,170). … Parsons has pulled down nearly 10 rebounds-a-game over his last four. The 6-10 senior swingman has 39 total boards during that stretch. His 670 career boards leads all current SEC players. … Ole Miss has won nine of 10 games. … The Rebels feature nine players averaging at least 12 minutes-a-game. … Mississippi leads the SEC in team free-throw shooting (74.5-percent). … Florida has been outrebounded only once all season, by Kenneth Faried-led Morehead State on Nov. 21. … Coach Billy Donovan is 11-6 all-time against the Rebels. … If Florida wins 13 conference games this year, that will give Donovan 150 victories in conference for his career. … UF is 123-14 during the last five years when holding opponents to 70 or fewer points (11-1 in 2010-11). … The Gators are 4-0 this year when recording at least 10 steals. In 11 wins this year, UF is averaging 7.6 steals and are forcing 14.8 turnovers. … Florida has no more non-conference games remaining this regular season. … In the lifetime series with Mississippi, Florida is 2-1 in games decided by a point. Oddly, the Gators are 3-7 in games decided by two points and 2-3 in games decided by three points.
PAST EXAMS AND GATOR(GR)ADES
Game 1: Florida 77, UNC Wilmington 60. Gator Player of the Game: Scottie Wilbekin (3 points, 5 assists, 4 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Chad Tomko (15 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: B– . Record: 1-0.
Game 2: Ohio State 93, Florida 75. Gator Player of the Game: Vernon Macklin (12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block); Opposing Players of the Game: David Lighty (26 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal) and Jared Sullinger (26 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C. Record: 1-1.
Game 3: Florida 105, North Carolina A&T 55. Gator Player of the Game: Will Yeguete (7 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Thomas Coleman (8 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A– . Record: 2-1.
Game 4: Florida 61, Morehead State 55. Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Kenneth Faried (20 points, 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots. Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C– . Record: 3-1.
Game 5: Florida 79, Florida Atlantic 63. Gator Players of the Game: Alex Tyus (19 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist) and Kenny Boynton (21 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound); Opposing Player of the Game: Greg Gantt (17 points, 2 assists, 1 steal). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: B-. Record: 4-1.
Game 6: Florida 55, Florida State 51. Gator Player of the Game: Erik Murphy (10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 blocked shot); Opposing Player of the Game: Michael Snaer (15 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 5-1.
Game 7: Central Florida 57, Florida 54. Gator Player of the Game: Vernon Macklin (20 points on 10-of-11 shooting, 8 rebounds); Opposing Player of the Game: Marcus Jordan (18 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C-. Record: 5-2.
Game 8: Florida 67, American 48. Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Troy Brewer (17 points, 2 rebounds). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 6-2.
Game 9: Florida 65, Kent State 52. Gator Players of the Game: Alex Tyus (20 points on 10-of-15 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist) and Vernon Macklin (19 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, 1 steal, 1 assist); Opposing Player of the Game: Carlton Guyton (14 points, 4-of-6 on three-pointers, 3 rebounds, 3 assists). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 7-2.
Game 10: Florida 57, Kansas State 44. Gator Players of the Game: Kenny Boynton (15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, 1 assist, helped limit Pullen to 6-of-17 shooting); Opposing Player of the Game: Jacob Pullen (19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 8-2.
Game 11: Jacksonville 71, Florida 68 (OT). Gator Player of the Game: Erving Walker (game-high 21 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound); Opposing Player of the Game: Keith McDougald (team-high 18 points – 15 in the second half/overtime, 2 steals, 1 rebound). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: D+. Record: 8-3.
Game 12: Florida 66, Radford 55. Gator Player of the Game: Erving Walker (game-high 20 points, including 5-of-7 on 3s, 3 assists, 2 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Johnathan Edwards (team-high 15 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C-. Record: 9-3.
Game 13: Florida 71, Xavier 67. Gator Player of the Game: Kenny Boynton (16 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal); Opposing Player of the Game: Tu Holloway (game-high 26 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A. Record: 10-3.
Game 14: Florida 84, Rhode Island 59. Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (18 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot); Opposing Player of the Game: Delroy James (game-high 23 points, 6 rebounds). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A. Record: 11-3.