It’s quite easy to use the words rematch and revenge when Marquette meets No. 7 Florida Thursday night in its first true road game of the season.
Sure, the Gators ended the Golden Eagles’ season last March in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16, but that was last year. Times have changed at both schools, so have both rosters.
Gone are Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder from Marquette, Bradley Beal and Erving Walker have departed Florida.
Though Beal and Walker were Florida’s second and third leading scorers last year, the Gators return an incredible amount of talent, including leading scorer Kenny Boynton.
“Florida is better than they were a year ago at this time,” Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said. “Florida is better than they were when they beat us in March. Florida is good enough to win a national championship.”
That’s certainly high praise, and Williams doesn’t toss it around lightly. But the Gators have earned it. Florida is 5-0 for the first time since 2009-10, with a 23.8 average margin of victory.
For the first road game of a season, this is about as tough as it gets. Marquette is still not quite sure how this is going to work without Crowder, Johnson-Odom and suspended guard Todd Mayo, the feeling out process is still ongoing.
Whenever the Golden Eagles figure it out, Florida coach Billy Donovan thinks they have the potential to be even better than they were a year ago, hinting that maybe Marquette leaned on Crowder and Johnson-Odom too much a year ago.
“Losing Crowder and Johnson-Odom, those guys were really good players but I actually think they have the potential and ability to be better than they were a year ago,” Donovan said. “Obviously they had a great year and they had a great year in the Big East, but when you look at their team, they are incredibly balanced right now.”
The kind of balance that Marquette is striving for is what Florida has shown this year. Four players average over 10 points per game, including Boynton who is averaging 16.2 points per game and shooting 44.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Senior forward Erik Murphy is a match up nightmare, standing at 6-foot-10, but shooting 40.9 percent from 3. The Gators also feature an inside threat in 6-foot-9 junior Patric Young.
“It will be very physical,” junior guard Jake Thomas said. “But if we do what Buzz tells us to do, we’ll be all right.”
While personnel are different, style of play for both head coaches hasn’t changed. Donovan feels one benefit to having played Marquette so recently is that his players got used to how hard the Golden Eagles play.
“The one thing that is going to be the same is the system,” Donovan said. “Buzz Williams has a system and a style of play that he wants to play. Maybe some of the faces are a little different than a year ago but we’ve at least had a chance to see that kind of system and style of play.”
Two stats jump out so much for Florida that Williams called them “absurd” on his weekly radio show. 39.7 percent of the Gators shot attempts have been 3’s, but even when they miss, they clean the glass. Of their 141 misses this season, the Gators have 70 offensive rebounds.
Add in one of the toughest places to play in the country and Marquette has quite the challenge, but don’t tell that to the Golden Eagles.
“I believe we can beat them if we play as hard as we practice,” freshman forward Steve Taylor, Jr. said.