Star Tribune reporter Amelia Rayno breaks down the matchups in Sunday’s game.
One thing Florida has going for it is the experience of its guards, particularly with seniors Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario. Both are athletic, very quick and can make big plays. The Gophers trio of Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman has improved as a unit lately — particularly in the victory over UCLA on Friday — but the backcourt still has been largely inconsistent over the course of the season. Add the bevy of three-pointer threats, and the on-ball pressure of Gators floor general Scottie Wilbekin, and it might be too much for the Gophers to handle.
Erik Murphy might be one of the toughest matchups in the country. The 6-10 big man with a respectable post game is also very adept at stepping out and shooting the three-pointer (and making it 46.1 percent of the time). Murphy is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and led the Gators with 18 points Friday vs. Northwestern State. At center, Patric Young also had a great game (16 points, nine rebounds), but the junior has been inconsistent all year and hasn’t done enough on the boards. Trevor Mbakwe, who for once won’t give away much height or size, will try to take advantage of Young’s ups and downs. And if fellow senior Rodney Williams can stay aggressive, the Gophers should be competitive.
Coach Billy Donovan doesn’t play quite as long of a bench as Tubby Smith does, but he’s not afraid to use it, either. More importantly, Florida gets much better production out of the players it does use. The Gators have three players averaging 5.3 points or more off the bench. Reserve Will Yeguete is on the lower side of that, but the forward who missed a month after a February knee surgery is only getting better — and can be a big, physical help inside for Florida. In their past three games, the Gators’ bench has combined for a total of 49 points, while the Gophers bench has managed just 23. The Gophers used a barrage of bodies Friday vs. UCLA, but with Florida capable of countering, it won’t be the same advantage Sunday.
Tubby Smith is more than familiar with Donovan’s prowess, having coached at Kentucky for 10 seasons up to 2007, the year Donovan and the Gators won their second of back-to-back national titles. But Donovan — whose Gators won the final six games over the Wildcats in that head-to-head matchup before Smith joined the Gophers — was a bit of a different coach then. He has become very comfortable and familiar with advanced statistics, perhaps the reason why Florida is the only team in the country that lands in the top five of both Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive rating and adjusted defensive rating. Meanwhile, Smith has kept everything pretty much the same.
PREDICTION: Florida 68, Gophers 59