Last March, the seventh-seeded Gators defeated the third-seeded Golden Eagles, formerly Warriors, in a Sweet Sixteen contest in which the winner went on to play Louisville. While both teams lost some of their top guns, there are still many familiar faces on each side.
Bill Donovan's team lost senior Erving Walker as well as an NBA early entrant in freshman Bradley Beal. Buzz Williams' team lost their top two players from a year ago, in the form of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, both of whom are now NBA-bound.
Both teams enter Thursday night's contest in Gainesville with five wins. Marquette's lone loss was on a buzzer-beating prayer against Butler at the Maui Invitational, while Florida is still unscathed in the loss column.
Here's a quick rundown of each positional matchup in Thursday's battle:
Point Guard: Junior Cadougan vs. Kenny Boynton
Although extremely different, Cadougan matching up with Boynton will be interesting. Cadougan is a natural point guard, looking for open teammates first while still using his big-bodied point guard frame to create for himself. Boynton has played the off-guard position his whole career but moved to starting point guard when Scottie Wilbekin was suspended to start the season. Bounton's agenda will be to get his own shot off, as evidenced by his team-high 16.2 point average.
Shooting Guard: Vander Blue vs. Mike Rosario
After sitting on Sunday in a blowout win over UMBC with an injury that occurred in Maui, Blue, who was part of the All-Tournament Team at the Invitational, will be ready to go Thursday. His counterpart, Rosario, was the main man at Rutgers for two years before transferring to Florida. After coming off the bench last season, Rosario is starting to find his old form again.
Small Forward: Trent Lockett vs. Will Yeguete
The addition of Lockett helped ease the pain of losing two All-Big East performers in one year for Buzz Williams. Lockett, who came from Arizona State, is solid in all facets of the game but not remarkable in any one skill. Yeguete averages nearly seven points and eight rebounds and plays as more of a front court player.
Power Forward: Juan Anderson vs. Erik Murphy
Anderson has been a surprise this season. While not putting up gaudy numbers, he has cracked MU's starting lineup when prior to the season I thought he wouldn't even find a way into the rotation. Murphy is the definition of a stretch four. Murphy currently stands as the Gators' second leading scorer, and while preferring to shoot from behind the arc he can also beat you inside.
Center: Chris Otule vs. Patric Young
After a season-ending injury last November, Otule is back on the court for his last go around as a college player. As a defensive minded player, Otule will try and mitigate the damage by the bigger starting five of Florida. Young is one physical specimen, built like maybe no other player in the nation. This future NBA player still has room to improve with his post moves, but truly is a freak of an athlete.
Bench: Marquette vs. Florida
Maybe as intriguing as each team's starting fives are the players who make up their respective team's benches. Neither team has a player on their roster who plays 30 minutes per game or more, so you can be sure the benches will be used early and often because of each team's fast style of play.
Davante Gardner is Marquette's leading scorer, averaging 14 points in only 20 minutes of action, while not being on the court to start the game. He also leads the team in rebounds. Jamil Wilson will see starter minutes for Marquette and is the team's third leading scorer, while sharpshooter Jake Thomas, freshman Steve Taylor and backup point guard Derrick Wilson will all also be sure to contribute.
Scottie Wilbekin, a hometown boy who left high school a year early to become a Gator, is the team's real point guard and will allow Donovan to play around with lineups when this all-around player is in the game. Freshman Michael Frazier has also been a spark for Florida, while Casey Prather has now returned after missing the team's first four games.
Coach: Buzz Williams vs. Billy Donovan
Buzz is one of the most up and coming coaches that college basketball has to offer, bringing a constant energy while on the court, and recruiting the junior college ranks better than anyone in the business. Donovan, a two-time National Champion, would love nothing more than to get back to the Final Four after blowing late leads in the Elite Eight the past two seasons. This may be the Gators squad that gets him back there.
Overall: Florida 4 Marquette 3
While Florida gets the overall edge here by the slimmest of margins, don't expect Thursday's showdown to be quite as close. First off, the game is at Florida, which is by no means an easy place to take a road win. Marquette is a good, not great team, who hasn't quite gelled yet but should be very dangerous later in the season once all the aforementioned players have played together for a longer period. Expect a high scoring, fast-paced, fun to watch tempo throughout. As much as I'm pulling for the upset and revenge from last year's NCAA tournament knockout, I see the home team Gators getting the W by a respectable 8-point margin.
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