The Friday night schedule may be light in quantity but it certainly doesn't lack for quality, with a pair of Top 20 matchups in the HTC Big East/SEC Invitational. #9 Florida (5-1) visits #3 Syracuse (7-0) in a game that promises to be played at a fast tempo, and given the offensive weapons that will be on display it should be high-scoring as well. This is the Gators' second true road game against a Top 5 opponent this season, as they fell at Ohio State in mid-November, which should pay off for this group when the stakes get raised in SEC play. Florida will encounter one of the tougher defenses in the nation in Syracuse's 2-3 zone, an active defense that's bolstered by the length of the Syracuse defenders.
The good news for the Gators is that they've made at least ten three-pointers in every game they've played this season, and that should come as no surprise given the caliber of shooters at Billy Donovan's disposal. Freshman Bradley Beal (17.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Erving Walker (13.7 ppg, 5.3 apg) and Kenny Boynton (18.5 ppg, 3.3 apg) start while Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario (12.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) is one of the first subs off the bench, four key components for a team that shoots 42.9% from three on the season. The key for Florida in this regard will be to get the perimeter looks that they want instead of settling too often for the ones that Syracuse gives them.
With forward Erik Murphy injured Will Yeguete has started in his place, and despite the presence of Patric Young (10.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) the Orange likely have the advantage inside due to their depth. Kris Joseph (14.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) would count more as a wing in the Syracuse attack, and in addition to him Jim Boeheim can call upon sophomores Fab Melo (5.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg), James Southerland (10.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and C.J. Fair (8.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) as well as freshman Rakeem Christmas (4.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg). Fair, who was arguably Syracuse's best freshman last season, and the in-shape Melo have both made strides in their development from last season to this.
The same can be said for reserve guard Dion Waiters (11.9 ppg, 3.4), who has been outstanding after a frustrating 2010-11 campaign. The Philadelphia native offers up quite the contrast to fifth-year senior Scoop Jardine (7.0 ppg, 4.1 apg) due to his athleticism, which allows him to apply pressure to defenses in either the half or open court. The Florida guards, which will include capable defender Scottie Wilbekin, have to limit Waiters' opportunities in the open floor to make play. It will also help the Gators if they can limit Brandon Triche early, as he tends to be inconsistent depending on the result of his first few looks at the basket.
Offensively the Gators have been the better of the two teams when looking at the efficiency numbers, and while they do average four more possessions per game it isn't as if Syracuse can't play at a fast pace. Neither team has been that reliant on points from the foul line, and Florida scores 40% of their points from three-point range, a number they're likely to reach given the Syracuse zone (Syracuse's opponents have scored 38% of their points from deep thus far). It won't be how many points Florida scores from so much as how easily those points come about. It'll be tough to win at the Carrier Dome, but Florida has more than enough pieces to get the job done.
Also on tap is Vanderbilt's trip to Louisville, and the Cardinals have played good basketball for much of the season despite dealing with multiple injuries. The question is a simple one for Vanderbilt: can guards Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins get the job done on the defensive end of the floor? After dealing with Xavier guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, the Commodores face a deep stable led by Peyton Siva and Chris Smith. In the frontcourt freshman Chane Behanan has been outstanding for the Cardinals thus far, and while the game is likely to be played at a fast pace the question is whether or not Kevin Stallings' team can both withstand and throw a few body blows.
Preseason MAAC favorite Iona and defending regular season champion Fairfield both open their conference slates with games in western New York, with the Gaels taking on a Canisius team that will be without the injured Gaby Belardo and Fairfield playing at Niagara. Niagara is a very young team, and freshmen such as guard Juan'Ya Green will be tested by Rakim Sanders, Derek Needham and company. Cincinnati visits Georgia in a game the Bearcats may need for their resume given their home losses to Presbyterian and Marshall, and in another MAAC matchup slumping Rider needs to rebound with Manhattan visiting the Broncs Zoo. Lastly, Washington closes out the night with a game at Nevada, and the talented Wolf Pack will provide a stiff test for the Huskies.
Top 25 Games
7:00 PM (9) Florida at (3) Syracuse (ESPN)
9:00 PM (19) Vanderbilt at (6) Louisville (ESPN)
8:00 PM Northwestern State at (13)Missouri (ESPN3)
NCAA Division I Games
5:00 PM North Texas vs. La Sierra University*
7:00 PM Cincinnati at Georgia (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Fairfield at Niagara (MAAC TV)
7:00 PM Iona at Canisius (MAAC TV)
7:00 PM South Carolina State at Longwood
7:00 PM Manhattan at Rider (MAAC TV)
8:00 PM Mississippi Valley State at Northwestern (BTN)
8:00 PM Sacramento State at Oklahoma (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Auburn at Seton Hall (ESPNU)
9:05 PM Haskell at Utah Valley
10:00 PM Columbia at Loyola Marymount
10:05 PM BYU Hawaii at Long Beach State
11:00 PM Washington at Nevada (ESPNU)