Before Florida can sit around the Christmas tree, open presents and sing carols, they have two games remaining. Tonight’s is a big one — in the Big Apple.
Gators head coach Billy Donovan has returned to his home state of New York to hopefully lead #16 Florida (7-2) to a win over #15 Memphis (7-1) in Madison Square Garden. This match-up is the second of two as part of the Jimmy V Classic, honoring late college basketball coach Jim Valvano.
Florida is coming off a big 67-61 win at home over the #18 Kansas Jayhawks, where they forced a season-high 24 turnovers, the most since Nov. 11, 2011 against Jackson State. The Gators scheduled a particularly tough non-conference slate this year. With a win tonight, UF could move to .500 in games against ranked opponents, after having suffered losses earlier in the season at Wisconsin and Connecticut.
Memphis, on a six-game winning streak, also came out on top in their recent game, a 73-59 win over Arkansas-Little Rock. However, their schedule so far has looked a little easier than Florida’s. The Tigers’ only loss, away game and match-up against a ranked foe came at the hands of #7 Oklahoma State — a 101-80 beatdown in Stillwater. Memphis evened the score a few weeks later in Orlando, Fla., defeating the Cowboys 73-60.
Out of Memphis’ five probable starters, three are averaging in the double-digits when it comes to points per game: sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin (13.6), freshman forward Austin Nichols (10.8) and senior guard Joe Jackson (15.0). Jackson and Gator senior forward Casey Prather are familiar with each other, since they were both finalists for the 2010 Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball Award (Jackson received the honor). The Tigers’ other two starters will likely be senior guards Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson. Florida will probably counter with senior forward Will Yeguete, senior center Patric Young, senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, sophomore guard Michael Frazier II and Prather.
Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. Catch the game on TV through ESPN or WatchESPN (if your cable provider allows it) or on the radio through Country 103.7 The Gator or ESPN Radio.