X-Factors to Watch in Florida vs Albany NCAA Tournament Matchup

Gideon Rubin@@RubinGideonFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

X-Factors to Watch in Florida vs Albany NCAA Tournament Matchup

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    Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

    The best way to prepare for an opponent you've never seen before is to watch them on video.

    That's almost always true.

    In the case of Thursday's second-round game between top-ranked Florida and No. 16 Albany, however, the Gators might be better off looking in the mirror: The only team that can beat the Gators, after all, is the Gators itself.

    This uniquely lopsided matchup (if you can even call it that) nevertheless presents some unique challenges for the nation's top-ranked team.

    So with tipoff right around the corner, let's take a look at the biggest X-factors fans should watch for in this game.

Billy Donovan, Florida, Coach

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Gators coach Billy Donovan faces a delicate balancing act managing a matchup that's ostensibly a lose-lose proposition for the Gators.

    Run the Great Danes off the court and nobody cares; look anything less than dominant and everybody's questioning whether the Gators are really worthy of the tournament's No. 1 tag.

    It's one thing to ready his players for Kentucky in the SEC tournament finals, but can Donovan get his players to take him seriously in preparing for a lesser team? How much playing time do the starters get? Does he leave them in too long, risking injury?

    How Donovan manages this balancing act figures to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the Gators' tournament opener, with each move scrutinized.

Kasey Hill, Florida, G

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    Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

    Expect Kasey Hill to play a key role in this game.

    The freshman point guard has been dogged by ankle and groin injuries this season and is finally healthy at a time that the Gators might need him most.

    Hill, who's averaging 5.5 points and 3.1 assists, could see significant minutes should Donovan opt to rest Scottie Wilbekin.

    Gators fans will be more interested in how he easily he moves up and down the court than the numbers he puts up.

Chris Walker, Florida, F

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    Forward Chris Walker was projected to make an immediate impact when he first showed up in Gainesville last year.

    The high-ceiling freshman has an abundance of talent that Gators fans haven't even seen him scratch the surface of, in what so far has been a disappointing season.

    Walker was ineligible until late January and has seen limited playing time since.

    Will this be his breakout moment?

Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida, F

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Redshirt sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith has adjusted to role-player status since transferring from Virginia Tech.

    He has excelled in that role.

    The SEC's Sixth Man of the Year gives the Gators a spark off of the bench that few teams possess.

    Look for the Gators to try to get Finney-Smith going in the tournament against Albany.

D.J. Evans, Albany, G

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    Skip Peterson/Associated Press

    D.J. Evans is probably the most unheralded player on the NCAA tournament's most unheralded team.

    But the pint-sized guard (he's “charitably listed at 5-foot-9” according to an Associated Press report picked up by ESPN.com) scored 22 points to lead the Great Danes in a 71-64 play-in victory over Mount St. Mary's on Tuesday.

    He also had nine rebounds and three assists.

    Could he be the ultimate underdog's secret weapon?

    “He's about 4-foot-8, so he's really impressive,” Albany guard Peter Hooley said of Evans in the AP report.

    “I don't think there's another 4-8 guard who could go in there and get that many boards. He did what he needed to do to get this win."