Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sports

Florida Gators face tough tests starting with Marquette

GAINESVILLE — Through the first five games this season, the Florida Gators have faced opponents that have offered varying styles and challenges and have had the added burden of dealing with injuries and suspensions.

So far, they've come out unscathed with a 5-0 record and a No. 7 ranking in both national polls.

But when the Gators host Marquette at 9 tonight in a nationally televised game as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge, it will be the start of a three-game stretch that includes games at Florida State (Dec. 5) and at No. 9 Arizona (Dec. 15), which the Gators expect will reveal a lot about just how good they are right now.

"It's time for us to find out what we're really made out of going against some really talented teams, tough competition," junior center Patric Young said. "It gives us an opportunity to see how we're really doing this season."

The game is a rematch of last season's NCAA West Region semifinal, which Florida won 68-58. But there will be significant changes from that game because both are without key players from last season, and both are tinkering with lineups to find what works best.

"Two totally different teams," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I think their team right now, losing (Jae) Crowder and (Darius) Odom, those guys were really good players, but I actually think they have the ability to be better than they were a year ago, and obviously they had an outstanding year and they had a great year in the Big East. But I think when you look at their team, they are incredibly balanced right now."

Marquette coach Buzz Williams has a similar feeling about the Gators.

"Erving Walker was a talented player, but I think they are a better team with (Scottie) Wilbekin," Williams said. "Kenny Boynton is extremely talented, (Erik) Murphy's back, Young is back. They are really, really good. Really good. … I just think their personnel is outstanding."

During Wilbekin's three-game suspension at the start of the season, Donovan was forced to go big, moving 6-foot-7 Will Yeguete to the starting lineup at small forward, where he has excelled.

Williams said from what he has seen on film of the Gators, "Yeguete, this year, has changed the complexion of their team."

Which is why, for now, Donovan isn't planning any wholesale changes. Yeguete, he said, will continue starting, out of loyalty for his unselfishness and because it has worked out so well.

"He had to learn an entirely different position, and he goes out there and having to play two different positions, and he's worked hard," Donovan said. "… Will's performed and played well."

Regardless of who starts, the Gators expect a highly competitive game.

"We played them in the NCAA Tournament last year, so it's like we're playing an NCAA Tournament team," Boynton said. "Both of us have got new faces on our team. They lost two primary scorers and now they are more of a balanced team. We lost Brad (Beal) and Erv.

"It's two different teams, but it should be a good game."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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