The seventh-ranked Florida Gators put their unblemished record on the line once more, as they entertain the Marquette Golden Eagles on Thursday night as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge.
Marquette is off to a fast start as well, logging wins in five of its first six games. The team's lone setback occurred versus Butler (72-71) during the Maui Invitational, and since that time it has run off three straight victories, the most recent of which being a 79-46 rout of UMBC on Monday. The Golden Eagles have already defeated one SEC team this year, whipping Mississippi State in Maui, 89-62, and they own a 2-1 series advantage over Florida. MU has one more SEC squad lined up as it will face LSU at home on Dec. 22, and the team will kick off Big East action versus UConn on New Year's Day.
Florida is 5-0 for the eighth time in 17 seasons under head coach Billy Donovan, and every win this year has been by double figures. The Gators are 4-0 at home, and their most recent triumph came against in-state foe UCF, 79-66, last Friday. Other than that bout, the only other formidable opponent UF has faced was Wisconsin, and that game proved to be a laugher as well with the Gators chewing up the Badgers in a 74-56 final. Florida does not have another Big East squad on the schedule, and the team will open the SEC portion of its slate on Jan. 9, 2013 at home versus Georgia.
Marquette uses a balanced attack to keep the opposition at bay, as six players average at least 7.0 ppg, with Davante Gardner leading the way with 14.0 ppg. Gardner also heads the team's rebounding effort (6.5 rpg) while being tied for second in steals (seven), and all that is quite remarkable for a guy who isn't in the starting lineup and averages just over 20 minutes of playing time per contest. Vander Blue (11.4 ppg) and Jamil Wilson (11.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg) are the unit's only other double-digit scorers, and the team as a whole is netting 76.5 ppg on the strength of its .491 field goal percentage, which includes a 37.0 percent showing from three-point range. Defensively, the Golden Eagles are permitting just 60.0 ppg, as foes connect on a meager 28.3 percent of their long-range tries and 38.3 percent of their field goal attempts overall. Coming up with an average of 15 turnovers per game while laying claim to a +5.5 rebounding advantage also helps. Up by just four points at the break against UMBC, the Golden Eagles turned up the intensity in the second half, shooting a sizzling 71.4 percent from the floor to put the game away. By contrast, UMBC made good on only 29.0 percent of its shots after intermission, missing nine of its 10 three-point attempts along the way. Wilson was high man for MU with 15 points, while Gardner and Jake Thomas chipped in with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Florida's bread and butter is its play at the defensive end of the court, as foes are shooting just 33.7 percent overall, which includes a 33.3 percent effort from beyond the arc. As a result, they are scoring a paltry 48.4 ppg, which when paired with the Gators' average of 72.2, gives coach Donovan's club a staggering +23.8 scoring margin. Kenny Boynton leads the team with 16.2 ppg, Erik Murphy adds 12.8 ppg, Mike Rosario 11.0 ppg and Patric Young 10.4 ppg as UF's current quartet of double-digit scorers. The Gators are +10.6 in rebounding margin and +3.8 in turnovers, and they are coming off a game in which they dominated the glass (41-27) and beat UCF by double digits despite being outshot (.468-.426) on the night. Boynton led all scorers with 24 points, while Scottie Wilbekin tacked on 17 and Young finished with 10. The difference in the game was clearly the play of Florida's big men, as the Gators outscored the Knights in the paint (38-18) and in second-chance points (21-1). UF's reserves scored 28 points, while UCF's failed to post even a single point.