Atlantic 10 meets the Southeastern Conference at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla., when Chris Mack and his Xavier Musketeers (16-7, 8-2) pay a visit to Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators (17-7, 6-4).
Jockeying for an at-large bid is always a concern this time of year. The Gators face an uphill battle in the upcoming SEC tournament with the possibility of facing Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee. Xavier’s plight is not easier. The A-10 has been ranked as high as fifth by the RPI.
Both schools play their final non-conference game of the regular season.
Xavier and Florida have only tangled once in their history. The Musketeers downed the Gators 86-74 in the 1959 Hurricane Classic.
Under Billy Donovan, the Gators have made nine appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. The Gators have earned 14 berths in The Dance but have not been in the field of 65 since winning their latest championship.
Florida has lost their last two contests versus the A-10. Earlier this season, Richmond downed Florida by a 56-53 score. UMass topped the Gators last season, 78-66.
Xavier has danced on 20 occasions in school history. The Muskies have made two Elite Eight and one Sweet Sixteen appearance in the last six seasons.
Xavier is 1-0 this season against the SEC, beating LSU, 89-65.
Twenty former Gators have made rosters in the Association. Current players include Matt Bonner, Corey Brewer, Udonis Haslem, Al Horford, David Lee, Mike Miller, Joakim Noah, Marreese Speights, and Jason Williams.
Sixteen Musketeers have played in the Association, including current stars David West, James Posey, and Derrick Brown.
Xavier is 21st in the country with 79 points per game. The Muskies hit 46 percent of their shots, including 39.4 percent from behind the three-point arc. Florida limits opponents to 31 percent from long range and 63 points.
Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker drive the Florida engine. The backcourt tandem goes for 27 points and eight assists per outing. The freshman and sophomore have hit a combined 100 three-pointers on the season, but their biggest contribution tonight will be slowing Xavier's perimeter game.
Florida’s frontcourt is imposing in stature. Alex Tyus (6′9″), Chandler Parsons (6′9″), and Vernon Macklin (6′10″) haul in 19 boards per outing and have led the Gators to 3.3 average rebound margin.
Jordan Crawford leads three Musketeers in double figures. The sophomore transfer has put behind his questionable shot selection of earlier this year to lead the X-Men. Crawford scores 19 a game, hitting 41 percent from long range. The shooting guard has adjusted well to opposing defenses, averaging just under three assists.
Make no mistake, though, Terrell Holloway gets it going for Xavier. The sophomore point guard has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.2-to-1. Holloway makes it difficult for opponents to make up late deficits, hitting 86 percent (100-of-116) from the free throw line.
Jason Love averages 11 points and 8.4 rebounds. The senior center uses a jump hook that is nearly indefensible, netting him points on 58.6 percent of his shots.
Jamel McLean and Dante Jackson round out the starting five.
McLean is an instinctive ball-getter. He is listed at 6′8″ but plays much bigger because of his agility. Florida will have its hands full trying to keep McLean from his nearly seven rebounds a game.
Jackson only averages six points, but the small forward is capable of exploding. Jackson hit five of eight from behind the arc against Dayton.
Florida will find it difficult to keep up with Xavier’s bench. Mack uses a nine-man rotation with Kenny Frease, Mark Lyons, Brad Redford, and Andrew Taylor all seeing significant minutes.
Redford leads the Muskies in hitting 44 percent from long range. Holloway has become proficient in finding Redford open in transition for the trifecta. Florida will need to gather itself quickly to hold down Redford.
Frease averages just under six points and slightly less than five rebounds. The sophomore has four double-digit-point outings and three performances of 10 or more rebounds.
Last time out, Xavier was hammered by Dayton. The Muskies are itching to play, and the Gators will be recipients of "misplaced" aggression. Xavier makes it 2-0 versus the SEC.