In a Pac-12/SEC microsite joint venture, contributors Andrew Murawa and Doug Perry tell us what the Wildcats and Gators need to do to gain the upper hand in this weekend’s premier matchup.
Arizona will win if…
- They can limit turnovers. Arizona’s turnover numbers look real bad (they’re averaging turnovers on 22.2% of all their possessions), but the fact is, they’ve been inflated by a couple horrific games. Against Southern Miss, they gave it up on better than 38% of their possessions, and against UTEP it was turnovers on 30% of possessions. But, in their biggest game to date last weekend at Clemson, they only turned it over 11 times. Most concerning, however, is the fact that Solomon Hill, the player most responsible for getting the Wildcat halfcourt offense into gear, was responsible for five of those turnovers. Florida does a great job of pressuring opposing ball-handlers, with Scottie Wilbekin in particular harassing opponents into turnovers on a regular basis, so if Arizona can make solid decisions and take care of the ball, that will be a major first step in securing the big win.
- They can force bad shots. Florida doesn’t really have a ton of weaknesses, but historically, guys like Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario have been known to go into chucker mode from time to time and throw up baffling shots. While the seniors won’t necessarily be rattled by the spectacle of the McKale Center and the national stage, Arizona can help them along the way to bad shots by using their length to dissuade post-entry passes, by employing physical perimeter defense, and by, perhaps most importantly, sticking with Erik Murphy through picks and pops and rolls and whatever else he does, limiting his good looks at the hoop. If the Wildcats can do their best to limit the impact of guys like Murphy and Patric Young on the offensive end, Boynton and Rosario will have to take it upon themselves to win this game. And frankly, Sean Miller would likely rather take a chance getting beat by those guys than getting beat by the Florida bigs.
- The veterans play like veterans. Arizona’s freshman trio of big guys – Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett – are serious gonna-bes. They are all gonna be major players, not only at their current level of basketball but likely at the next level. And, while they’ve shown the ability to make a major impact on the outcome of the current season, this is, in reality, their first big-time game. As such, while each of those guys needs to live up to the responsibilities that the Arizona coaching staff tasks them with, the eventual outcome of this game will be determined by whether Arizona’s vets – seniors Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, and, to a lesser extent, sophomore Nick Johnson – live up to their ends of the bargain. Each of them have been very good this season, but this is the first real test. Not only are these guys going to need to knock down shots, make smart plays, and sell out defensively, they’re going to need to provide a positive example for the youngsters as to how games of this caliber should be approached. If the vets can play as vets should, it will not only bode well for Arizona’s chances in this big game, but it will be the first positive step towards success in the following big games.
Florida will win if…
- They limit Arizona’s three-point shots. The Wildcats aren’t shy about putting up shots from long range. Arizona ranks in the top 15 nationally in three-point percentage (40.5%) and three-pointers/game (8.6), and defending perimeter shots is not Florida’s specialty (132nd in opponent three-point percentage). The Gators have a propensity to be aggressive in passing lanes, earning steals on 12.7% of their opponent’s possessions, but they should be careful not to overplay against a team that’s so dangerous from long distance. The McKale Center will be bumping, and a parade of made threes is exactly what Arizona will want to keep their fans as loud as possible. Florida is one of the most experienced teams you’ll see in college basketball’s elite tier, but a passionate fan base eager to see the Wildcats thrust into the national title conversation can rattle even the most seasoned team.
- They don’t forget about the big guys. Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario are great perimeter scoring threats, but they aren’t exactly famous for their discerning taste in shot selection. If the two gunners spend the night forcing shots that they shouldn’t, I can’t see the Gators flying back east with a victory. Patric Young has been somewhat of an afterthought in Florida’s offense this season, but I guarantee that Arizona isn’t overlooking him. The junior center had the best game of his career against the Wildcats last season, racking up 25 points and 10 rebounds on 12-of-15 shooting. Admittedly, Arizona’s frontcourt has added a ton of size since last season, so Young’s massive frame won’t be as great of an advantage, but he’s an option that Billy Donovan would be foolish to ignore. Forward Erik Murphy has cooled off a bit since his hot start, but he’s capable of a monster game.
- They can handle Mark Lyons. Arizona’s stellar freshman class steals the headlines, and they’ve shown flashes so far, but Sean Miller’s crew can’t hang with Florida on youthful talent alone. No, the Wildcats will go as far as their upperclassmen will take them, and Mark Lyons is the best of the bunch. He isn’t a model of consistency (0-7 from the field against Southern Miss), but the Xavier transfer is coming off his best game of the season, scoring 20 points and adding four rebounds and four assists in a tough road environment at Clemson. He’ll have the home crowd’s support on Saturday night, but the Gators’ defense presents a much tougher challenge. Guards have an especially tough time scoring on Donovan’s sound defense, but outside of maybe FSU guard Michael Snaer, they haven’t yet faced a perimeter scoring threat with the big-game pedigree of Lyons.