(8) Florida (8-1) vs. Kansas State (8-2)
Saturday, December 22, 8 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, College Basketball Senior Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sprint Center (18,897) -- Kansas City, Missouri. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Florida 6-0, Kansas St. 6-0. Away Record: Florida 1-1, Kansas St. 1-0. Neutral Record: Florida 1-0, Kansas St. 1-2. Conference Record: Florida 0-0, Kansas St. 0-0. Series Record: Florida leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The eighth-ranked Florida Gators play a couple of neutral site games to close out the 2012 calendar year, starting with Saturday's showdown with the Kansas State Wildcats at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Billy Donovan's Gators are once again one of the premier teams in the SEC, as they head into this contest with an 8-1 overall record. The team won its first seven games of the season before suffering its only loss, a heart-breaking 65-64 decision to top-10 foe Arizona in Tucson last weekend. Florida found its way back into the win column with authority though on Wednesday, routing Southeast Louisiana in Gainesville, 82-43.
Bruce Weber's first season in Manhattan has gotten off to a good start, as the Wildcats have claimed victory in eight of their 10 games to date. Kansas State's two losses have come to top-25 programs in Michigan (71-57) and Gonzaga (68-52), but the team has gotten some distance from the loss to the Bulldogs, knocking off Texas Southern at home on Tuesday, 78-69.
These two teams have met just once prior, with Florida capturing a 57-44 victory in Sunrise in 2010.
The Gators are at their best when they can play stifling defense and let their offense come off of that. Florida has held six of its nine opponents under 50 points this season and currently rank first in the nation in scoring defense at a mere 49.6 ppg. UF is certainly no slouch at the offensive end either and as a result of a strong .474 shooting, the team enjoys a hefty +23.9 scoring margin. In addition, Florida has dominated play on the glass, outrebounding foes by just under 11 boards per game (+10.7 rebounding margin). Four of the team's first starters are averaging double-digit points, starting with guard Mike Rosario (12.9 ppg). Fellow guard Kenny Boynton (12.6 ppg) isn't far behind, while forward Erik Murphy (11.6 ppg) and center Patric Young (10.0 ppg) provide frontcourt balance.
Rosario had a huge performance against SE Louisiana, finishing with 20 points and six rebounds. Michael Frazier added 12 points to the cause, while Young was right on his season average with 10. The team was extremely effective at distributing the ball, finishing the game with a season-high 20 assists. SE Louisiana posed little threat, as the visitors where stymied, shooting an ugly .291 from the floor (16-of-55), including a 3-of-21 mark from behind the arc.
In the win over Texas Southern, Kansas State shot a sizzling 56.4 percent (season-high) from the floor overall, fueled by a 60.7 percent effort in the first half. Rodney McGruder had the hot hand and was almost unstoppable, connecting on 12-of-17 shots from the floor, finishing with a game-high 26 points. Thomas Gipson had a big game as well, registering a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. The team not only set a season-high for field-goal percentage, but also in assists (21).
Offense has not come that easy for KSU this season, so the team has really concentrated its efforts on its defensive play. The Wildcats are holding foes under 40 percent shooting on the year (.391), including under 30 percent from 3-point range (.265), while allowing just 57.4 ppg. Scoring depth isn't a strength for KSU, as only McGruder and Angel Rodriguez currently boast of double-figure scoring averages. McGruder is netting 13.3 ppg, but also makes his presence felt on the boards, where he ranks second on the team at 5.2 rpg. Rodriguez is averaging 10.7 ppg and tops the team in assists (4.4 apg). Will Spradling (8.7 ppg) and Gipson (7.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg) provide some support.
The Wildcats are coming off a strong offensive performance but will be hard- pressed to match that against the nation's top defensive squad. Look for Florida to get into a rhythm in the second half to earn the win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida 71, Kansas State 62
12/22 10:37:19 ET