Gainesville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Sunshine State rivals square off at the O'Connell Center on Monday evening, as the nationally-ranked Florida Gators play host to the Miami Hurricanes.
Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes are just one season removed from an ACC championship, but it seems a lot longer with Miami's struggles in 2013-14. The Hurricanes lost some significant personnel from that championship squad and as a result finished up last season 17-16 overall, but just 7-11 in conference play. Miami was able open its 2014-15 campaign with a rather easy victory on Friday though, blasting Howard by a score of 84-49.
Billy Donovan's Gators ran the table in the SEC a year ago and advanced all the way to the Final Four, finishing up the season at an impressive 36-3, with an 18-0 mark in the SEC. There are new faces in Gainesville this season, but the team was able to open the new campaign with a strong win over William & Mary (68-45), winning 23 straight season-openers, including a 19-0 mark under Donovan.
These two teams haven't met since 2009. The Gators hold a 45-22 advantage all- time, including a 29-6 mark at home against the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes jumped out to a huge lead, taking a 45-21 edge into halftime and cruised to a 35-point rout of Howard in the season opener. Miami shot a decent .458 from the floor and hit nine 3-pointers, while dominating Howard defensively, allowing their foe to convert a meager .286 from the field, while forcing 17 turnovers. Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan led three Miami players in double figures with 19 points. Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez didn't disappoint in his debut with the team either, posting 16 points, while Manu Lecomte chipped in with 14.
McClellan and Rodriguez should make up one of the ACC's top backcourts this season, with McClellan providing a strong offensive presence, while Rodriguez excels both as a distributor and defender.
The big question coming into the 2014-15 season was how exactly would Florida cope with the mass exodus of talent from last year's squad, including the departure of SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin, as well as Casey Prather and Patric Young. Defense, which is a staple in Gainesville, was once again what fueled the team to an easy win in the opener against William & Mary. The Gators held the Tribe to a miserable .316 shooting performance, which including an ugly 2-of-22 showing from behind the arc (.091). UF also held a 39-31 edge in rebounding. Florida, which shot a solid .472 from the floor itself, placed three players in double-figure scoring, led by forward Dorian Finney-Smith's 15 points. Guard Michael Frazier II, added 14 points to the cause, while Michigan transfer Jon Horford tacked on 11.
Dorian-Smith's strong outing is encouraging, as he will be called upon to take a much bigger offensive role this season. He should be help from Frazier, Horford and fellow transfer Eli Carter, who averaging almost 15 points per game at Rutgers two seasons ago.