Florida has staked an early claim as one of the nation’s best
teams with its first 5-0 start since the 2009-10 season. But after
their first five wins came by an average of 23.8 points, the
seventh-ranked Gators will likely learn much more about themselves
during a tougher three-game stretch.
It begins Thursday night when they host Marquette in an SEC/Big
East Challenge matchup and a rematch of a regional semifinal in
last season’s NCAA tournament, which Florida won 68-58.
After facing the Golden Eagles, Florida will play games at
Florida State and at No. 9 Arizona.
“After November and December are done, we’ll look at our
non-conference schedule and say there isn’t a style, system or
situation we haven’t really had a chance to get exposed to,” coach
Billy Donovan said. “I’d think ours has to be one of the more
challenging non-conference schedules in the country.”
The Gators appear to have more stability at point guard after
Scottie Wilbekin registered career highs with 17 points, eight
assists and five rebounds in a 79-66 home win against UCF on
Wilbekin was expected to be the team’s starter entering the
season but was initially suspended for an undisclosed violation.
His performance against the Knights in his third game back might
have been enough to vault him into the starting lineup.
Mike Rosario’s spot could be in jeopardy after he struggled
again. He has 13 assists and 12 turnovers while starting all five
games, but he played only four minutes in the second half against
UCF after two quick turnovers.
“I’m at a point with him right now where I just can’t deal with
the turnovers,” Donovan said. “There’s good and bad turnovers.
There are turnovers where you’re trying to make the right play, and
for whatever reason you don’t quite execute the pass. But then you
have what I would consider a high-stepping, one knee up, look away,
up in the air, that’s in the third row.
“We’re not going to tolerate it.”
Marquette (5-1) is coming off a 79-46 win against
Maryland-Baltimore County on Monday in which it trailed 31-30 with
16:52 left. The Golden Eagles went on a 37-5 run and shot 71.4
percent in the second half to coast to victory.
“(Coach Buzz Williams) just came in the locker room and said
everybody’s watching us and everybody’s watching this game,” said
freshman Steve Taylor Jr., who scored a season-high nine points.
“So play like us and we’ll get it done.”
Jamil Wilson scored a game-high 15 points and is 14 of 17 from
the field over his last two contests. Marquette’s formidable bench
– averaging 35.0 points – came up big again, totaling 39. Davante
Gardner continues to lead the team with 14.0 points per game
despite not starting.
Scoring against Florida’s stingy defense, which ranks among the
country’s best allowing 33.7 percent field-goal shooting and 48.4
points per game, could be a challenge, though Vander Blue’s return
should help. Williams sat Blue against UMBC after he sprained his
knee last week at the Maui Invitational. Blue ranks second on the
team with 11.4 points per game.
Florida leading scorer Kenny Boynton (16.2 ppg) scored a
season-high 24 against UCF three days after spraining his ankle. He
played with a tightly taped ankle and received a pain-killing
injection before the game.
Boynton shot 2 of 10 and scored 11 points in these teams’ NCAA
tournament matchup as Florida held Marquette to 30.8 percent
shooting. The top three scorers in that game – Florida’s Bradley
Beal and Marquette’s Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom – are now
“Two totally different teams,” Donovan said. “The one thing
that’s going to be the same for Marquette is Buzz Williams has got
a system and a style of play that he wants to play. … For us,
that’s what you’re getting prepared and ready for.”