Saturday marks the end of “Finals Week” across the college basketball landscape. The national schedule has been reduced throughout most of the week due, in large part, to players (remember: they have to hold up their end of the whole student-athlete charade) having to take final exams at their respective institutes of higher education.
It is fitting that one of the best nonconference games of the season, featuring the SEC and Pac-12 favorites, will take place this weekend since it is the final big test for two marquee hoops programs before they retreat to their respective backyards to fight their rivals for a league title.
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No. 5 Florida travels to Tucson to take on No. 8 Arizona at 10 p.m. on Saturday. This is the top game of the day, featuring a pair of teams with spotless 7-0 records, and it also features two teams with outstanding basketball pedigree.
This game is a rematch of a thrilling 78-72 Gator win in overtime last season in Gainesville. Florida overcame cold outside shooting – and a ridiculous foul with a three-point lead and 3.6 second left, which forced overtime – to earn the victory.
Here is a look at this year’s primetime matchup:
Florida Gators at Arizona Wildcats Betting Story Lines
Guard play is critical to college basketball success. And the winner of this game will likely be the squad that gets the best effort out of its backcourt on Saturday.
The biggest issue for Arizona over the past two seasons has been their lack of a true point guard. Since MoMo Jones transferred to Iona the Wildcat offense has been a rudderless, sloppy mess. Arizona has averaged 15 turnovers per game through their first seven outings, which is actually an improvement from what we saw from them last year.
Lead guard Nick Johnson is a budding star, leading the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game, and he is Arizona’s most efficient offensive player. He is a solid creator and distributor, but Johnson isn’t one to set up and orchestrate an offense or to handle the pressure with a steady hand. He’s an attacker.
The same could be said for Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, the de facto point guard. Lyons is a slashing, scoring guard and No. 2 on the team in scoring. But he is a fifth-year senior, and that gives him invaluable experience. And over the past several seasons Lyons played in a ton of big games shoulder-to-shoulder with an exceptional point guard in Tu Holloway.
But just because you watched someone build a patio it doesn’t mean that you can add an addition to your house. And Lyons has been streaky at the point.
All of this is a problem against a high-intensity Florida pressure that has forced 17 turnovers per game. It is more difficult to slap on a press on the road because the home crowd (and usually the officials) are against visitors. But the Gators will likely push the tempo from the start and try to earn easy baskets or extra possessions by putting the squeeze on the Wildcat guards.
Florida’s strength is in the backcourt, and they come at opponents in waves. Kenny Boynton is a four-year starter and has an exceptional resume. Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario is a slasher that looks much more comfortable in his second year at UF. And Scottie Wilbeikin, Casey Prather and Mike Frazier give Billy Donovan a load of options to handle the ball and take, and make, big shots.
The Gators are in the Top 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This team has excellent at forcing turnovers, which they have done on around a quarter of all opposing possessions this year, and turning them into fast break points.
Johnson and Lyons, along with subs Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes, will have to keep their composure and will have to play Florida equal on the perimeter if they want to spring the upset in this one.
The Wildcats will have a big advantage on the interior. Their frontcourt goes 6-feet-7, 6-8, 7-0, and they have a pair of 6-10 bodies to bring off the bench. And Arizona’s most talented frontcourt force is do-it-all Solomon Hill, who is shooting 45.2 percent from 3-point land while pulling down over five rebounds per game.
Florida leans on stud power forward Patric Young, an NBA prospect, and his athletic running mate Will Yeguete. Their fifth starter is Erik Murphy, a perimeter-oriented stretch-four, and Murphy is the only other Gator taller than 6-6.
The Wildcats had no answer for Young last year. He went 12-for-15 and posted 25 points to go with 10 rebounds as he controlled the interior.
And despite its stature, Florida has held its own on the boards this year. They are No. 69 in the nation in offensive rebounding and No. 12 in defensive rebounding.
Florida has clearly played the tougher schedule this season, already earning four wins over teams rated in the Top 70. They demolished Wisconsin (74-56) and Marquette (82-49) on their home floor and were outstanding in a 72-47 road win at Florida State. They also have a 66-45 neutral site victory over a tricky Middle Tennessee squad. That is four blowout victories over teams that will be in the mix for NCAA Tournament berths.
Arizona, on the other hand, is a bit more of a paper tiger. They won their first five games by an average of 25 points per game. But those wins all game against teams rated No. 159 or lower, with the best of the bunch a nine-point victory against No. 159 Charleston Southern. Arizona snuck by Southern Miss at home and they earned a much-closer-than-the-final-looked win over Clemson on the road last Saturday.
Florida Gators at Arizona Wildcats Betting Odds and Key Trends
The spread on this game opened at Florida -1.0 but was immediately bet up to -3.5. I expect this spread to hold relatively firm, closing between -2.0 and -4.0. I feel like the public will back the Gators while some sharp money will get in on Arizona.
Here are some key trends:
Gators are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games vs. a team with a winning S.U. record.
Gators are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games overall.
Gators are 7-2 ATS in their last 9 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600.
Gators are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 vs. Pacific-12.
Gators are 18-7-1 ATS in their last 26 non-conference games.
Wildcats are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 non-conference games.
Wildcats are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games overall.
Wildcats are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 vs. Southeastern.
College Basketball Picks: Florida at Arizona Betting Predictions
I like the Gators in this one – but the line movement will be an indicator. A wild swing to the home team would be a red flag. But as long as the Gators stay at -2.0 or higher, yet lower than -5.5, I think they are the play.
Florida has played a much more difficult schedule and they have been more impressive while doing so. But, most importantly, they have the chemistry and confidence that comes from the same core of players having gone through some battles together. Their top seven players are juniors and seniors, and these guys have played in and won a bunch of big games. Going to the McKale Center and coming out with a win is never easy. But the Gators already have a tough road win at rival Florida State and last year played tough in true nonconference road games against Ohio State and Syracuse. They are built for this. And they will show no fear. Neither should you. Lay the points.
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