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Keep your enemies closer, hoops edition: Florida

The Tigers face a tough test against the SEC's best team.


Auburn meets Florida Saturday afternoon at Auburn Arena in what will likely be the Tigers' toughest test of the season. For a little insight on the Gators, Andy Hutchins of SB Nation's Florida blog, Alligator Army, was kind enough to answer some questions.

At 20-3 overall and 10-1 in conference play, Florida is easily the class of the SEC. How does this Gator team compare to some of Billy Donovan's best? Do you think it has enough to make a Final Four or national championship run?

I think Florida's as good as it has been since those two national title teams, and maybe even a little better, considering the context of the college basketball season. The 2006 team finished atop Ken Pomeroy's ratings, and the 2007 team was second to a great North Carolina team; this 2013 Florida squad has topped Pomeroy's ratings for most of this season, and shows very few signs of slowing up, even after absorbing a bunch of injuries in the first part of the SEC schedule and an injury to Will Yeguete that knocked him out of the second half. I put it this way to someone last night: If Florida's a No. 1 seed, I'm going to have a hard time picking against Florida to go to the Final Four. And if a team can get to the Final Four, it can win it all.

The Gators have three players -- Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario -- averaging more than 12 points per game, and Patric Young is averaging just over 10. Which of these guys is the most important for Florida? Which one causes Florida to struggle when he's having an off night?

This is a terrible answer to a question asking for a single answer, but: None of the above. Murphy's probably the most important because he scores both inside and outside, but Florida's had success despite off nights from all four of those players offensively, and Boynton's been off more than he's been on this year. If we're including defense, Patric Young is the most important of those four because he does more at both ends, but he's simply not been off that much.

Have any players not met their potential this season?

I don't think there's a single Florida player that's been disappointing, with the exception of maybe Boynton, but his issues have to do with his shot not falling and him playing out of position at point guard for a while, but his shot is getting better and he's no longer playing the point. Everyone else is meeting or exceeding my expectations.

Forward Will Yeguete went down with a season-ending knee injury last week. How has this affected the Gators? What are they doing to compensate?

Yeguete's Florida's best rebounder, and a good, pesky defender, but Florida has brought in Casey Prather off the bench and gotten very similar production from him in Yeguete's absence. Florida missed Yeguete most in its loss at Arkansas, where his presence might have helped thwart the Razorbacks' very sound strategy of making every shot, no matter its difficulty, but it just hasn't missed him all that much since, because Prather's been so good of late.

The Gators are seventh nationally in field goal percentage (49.4) and 21st in three-point percentage (38.9). What does Donovan like to do on offense to allow his team to knock down shots at such a high clip?

Donovan's offense is predicated on high wing ball screens and movement, and on ball movement that finds the open man. Florida's players know how to take and make open threes, but they've also, this year, done a really good job of passing up the good shot for the very good shot, whether that's by pulling up for what could be a 15-footer and dropping it down for an easy lay-up or for rotating to a less contested three. It also helps that there's no one ever on the floor for Florida who regularly takes more than one or two bad shots in a game.

Florida is great on offense, but it may be even better on defense. The Gators are eighth in the country in opponents' field goal percentage (37.2) and they allow just 52.7 points per game, which ranks fourth. How is this team so effective on the defensive end?

Sustained effort is Florida's defensive key. The Gators move well and keep opponents away from the basket as much as possible, and Scottie Wilbekin, Young, and Boynton are all superior individual defenders. Florida often forces other teams to use the entire shot clock to find even a good shot, and rarely gets scored on because of bad defense instead of good offense.

The Gators have won 12 of 13 games, with the one loss coming at Arkansas, 80-69. How did the Razorbacks pull off the upset. Was Florida playing poorly in any way, or was Arkansas just playing that well?

As mentioned before, Arkansas was just hot enough to make lava jealous that night, starting 15-of-20 from the field and knocking down a bunch of threes. Florida was cold, too, and that combination, especially in the first half, put the Gators in a hole that was too deep to shovel out of, but there was no special formula the Razorbacks adhered to besides "Make shots."

I would imagine you're pretty confident going into this game, even if it is on the road. Is there anything about this game that worries you?

I think Florida's a much better team than Auburn, but Rob Chubb's physicality worries me a bit. Young can push around a lot of people on the block both offensively and defensively, but Chubb isn't a player who's going to yield easily.

How do you think the matchup against Auburn plays out? What's your final score prediction?

I think Florida struggles to make shots early, but opens up a double-digit lead by halftime and cruises in the second half. I'll go with Florida 78, Auburn 59 for my score prediction.