Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Florida Gators

8:00 P.M. (ET), FRIDAY
RADIO: SPARTAN SPORTS NETWORK (list of Michigan affiliates)



Gator bullets:

  • 2009 record: 25-11, 9-7 in the SEC, lost to Penn State in NIT quarterfinals to end season.
  • 2009 KenPom ranking: #42.  Adjusted offensive efficiency: #24.  Adjusted defensive efficiency: #87.
  • Three of five starters from 2009 return.  Leading scorer Nick Calathes departed for Greece.
  • Undefeated through four games in new season.  Defeated Florida State 68-52 at home on Tuesday.

Starter-plus-sixth-man (Parsons) capsule (more stats here):

Pos Player Year Height Pts/G Reb/G Ast/G 2pt% 3pt% FT%
G Erving Walker Soph 5'8" 10.8 3.8 4.8 0.400 0.182 0.733
G Kenny Boynton Fresh 6'2" 17.5 4.0 2.3 0.667 0.174 0.759
F Dan Werner Senior 6'8" 5.5 3.3 1.5 0.222 0.545 --
F Chandler Parsons Junior 6'9" 13.0 8.0 1.8 0.579 0.357 0.714
F Alex Tyus Junior 6'8" 9.5 7.5 0.8 0.484 -- 0.615
F/C Vernon Macklin RS Jun 6'10" 9.0 6.3 0.8 0.630 -- 0.286

Boynton is a true freshman who entered the Florida program as a 5-star recruit.  Macklin transferred in from Georgetown and is now eligible after sitting out a year.  The other four guys in the table all return from last season's team--although Tyus had announced he was transferring out of the program before changing his mind.

Despite a decent amount of stability from last season to this one in terms of their core playing group--essentially swapping out one talented freshman scorer for another--the Gators' strength appears to have shifted from offense to defense, as noted by Mr. Gasaway:

Keep in mind this is a team that for the past two years has had an excellent offense but has been locked out of the NCAA tournament due to shoddy D. And now all the sudden they’re beating Florida State in Gainesville 68-52 in a 71-possession game? The times they are a-changing. No Florida opponent, including and especially the Seminoles, has been able to make any shots against a reconfigured front line that features Alex Tyus at the 4 and Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin in the paint.

Good thing Billy Donovan’s defense has been so outstanding because this group hasn’t been able to make a three to save its life. Note for instance that highly anticipated freshman Kenny Boynton has been fairly efficient in his scoring even though the young man has made just four of the 23 threes he’s launched thus far. Effective exertions inside the arc and frequent trips to the line have enabled Boynton to help his team even amidst all the clangs from the perimeter.

The sub-20% three-point shooting percentages for Walker and Boynton are actually a little scary.  If those two players can shoot just a decent percentage from beyond the arc, that'd go along way toward the Gator offense scoring at a clip closer to last season's team (Florida takes a full 37.6% of its FG attempts from beyond the arc).  This year's team is shooting the ball pretty well from 2-point range (51.9%) and crashing the offensive glass (40.8% OffReb%).

The Lucas/Lucious/Summers/Allen group will need to play with a lot of energy on defense and keep the Gator guards, Boynton in particular, from getting into a comfortable shooting rhythm.  Delvon Roe, Draymond Green, and Raymar Morgan, meanwhile, will need to keep the Gator big men off the offensive glass.

Defensively, Florida has indeed found a level of stinginess--through four games against generally subpar competition, at least--that didn't exist last season.  The Gators ranked just 87th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2009, despite the fact their opponents did everything they could to help them out by shooting just 62.5% from the free throw line (lowest in the nation).

This season, Florida has thus far maintained relative strengths in the areas of creating turnovers (24.9% TO%) and avoiding fouls (25.7% FTR) and added tremendous perimeter defense.  Opponents are matching Boynton/Walker by shooting under 20% (17.8%, to be exact) from three-point range.

Gator opponents are scoring 60.5% of their points on 2-point FG attempts and have been able to record an assist on only 41.3% of made field goals.  MSU will need to beat the Florida pressure defense (they forced 16 turnovers in the first half against FSU) and find ways to score in the lane, kick the ball out to open perimeter shooters, or get fouled.  Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Draymond Green are the best bets to make those things happen.

Florida deployed a 2-2-1 zone press against Florida State.  I have a hard time seeing that working against MSU, with the speed-dribbling abilities of Lucas/Lucious and ball-handling skills of big men Green and Roe.  More likely, Billy Donovan mixes up several man-to-man/zone defensive combinations to keep the MSU players off guard.

There's every indication that this Florida team has the talent, experience, and size to go toe to toe with the Spartans for 40 minutes.  MSU will need to play intelligently and efficiently to win this game; it won't happen by brute force.

The Legends Classic bracket was set up to ensure this 2000 title game rematch.  The winner of the game will be a strong favorite in Saturday's tournament final (8:00) against the Massachusetts-Rutgers winner.

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