Count Billy Donovan, whose third-ranked Florida team plays host to Missouri at 8 p.m. Tuesday, among those who are thoroughly impressed by junior guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
“You can do a great job (defensively) and they still have that talent level to be able to make plays,” Donovan said Monday during the SEC’s weekly teleconference.
Kentucky coach John Calipari sought out the Tigers’ top tandem after the Wildcats squeaked out an 82-74 victory Saturday despite Brown’s career-high 33 points and 28 from Clarkson.
Of course, Donovan’s Gators also boast the SEC’s top defense, a smothering man-to-man that has permitted only 42.7 points in the last three games and only 46.3 points at home in four conference games.
“They play extremely hard on that end of the court and have great team defensive concepts,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “They really rotate and they make plays. … They’re just so sound with their fundamentals in terms of their rotation and making plays when they get there.”
Haith said Florida “smacked us around pretty good” last year, handing Missouri an 83-52 beating, but he’s hopeful that this year’s team is better prepared to handle the O’Connell Center. Here are three keys to making that happen:
1. Get the big three going
Missouri got huge games from Brown and Clarkson against Kentucky, but senior Earnest Ross struggled. He was saddled with early foul trouble and never got into an offensive rhythm, finishing with eight points on two-of-seven shooting.
Ross, who only made one of six three-point tries, needs to more aggressive going toward the basket and has to be a much bigger factor on offense for the Tigers to have any chance at the upset.
Donovan is understandably leery.
“Missouri has guys that are capable, certainly on the perimeter with Ross and Clarkson and Brown,” Donovan said. “Those guys are certainly capable of getting 25 or 30 in a game. To me, those three guys are special offensive players and I think Frank puts them in a good place, where they can really utilize their skill sets.”
That trio probably needs to combine for at least 55 points for Missouri, 65 if the defense can’t handle Florida’s frontcourt and the game winds up being more high scoring.
2. Avoid foul trouble
Ross and freshman Johnathan Williams III each sat for most of the first half Saturday against Kentucky with two fouls each.
Missouri simply isn’t deep enough to weather losing any of its best players for such extended periods against good teams — and the Gators are probably the best team the Tigers have played.
Without Williams and Ross in the lineup, Missouri didn’t manage a single offensive rebound in the first half as Kentucky grabbed a 10-point halftime lead. The game never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
Hopefully, Williams learned something about battling with the nation’s best big men in the paint, because he faces an equally daunting task with Florida’s Patric Young and Casey Prather.
Sophomore Ryan Rosburg has been solid defensively and on the boards when he can stay out of foul trouble, too.
Otherwise, the Tigers will be left to hope senior forward Tony Criswell plays with energy and elects to hang around the basket, searching for offensive rebounds or drop-offs for easy buckets rather than floating to the perimeter.
3. Create second-chance, fast-break points
Missouri has been a good offensive rebounding team, a trend that needs to continue.
Any easy second-chance points against Florida are gold.
Of course, the Tigers are at their best offensively when they get out in transition, which will be tough against a Gators team that doesn’t convert many turnovers.
Still, Missouri needs to find ways to run. Their guards are great finishing at the rim and drawing fouls.