Most of the focus Tuesday night in the college basketball world will be on two titanic Top 5 matchups: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State, and the clash of freshmen phenoms in the Duke-Kansas game. But 601 W. Dayton Street in Madison will be rocking as well when the No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers take on No. 11 Florida.
It's been almost one year to the day since the Gators handed Wisconsin its largest loss of the season down in Florida. Both teams have turned over a lot of key players in the offseason, leading to some unanswered questions heading into the matchup. Vegas has Wisconsin as six-point favorites, with Ken Pomeroy predicting a 65-63 Badger win with 57% confidence.
I reached out to Andy Hutchins, managing editor at Alligator Army, to humor us yet again, though I sense he's a bit less confident than he was at this time last season. And with good reason -- Florida is a depleted squad right now.
B5Q: First of all, bring us up to speed on Florida's suspensions. Word is senior guard Scottie Wilbekin and both transfer forwards, Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris, remain unavailable for the Wisconsin game. Are the reasons for all the suspensions known at this point? Are these disciplinary actions a trend Gator fans are worried about?
Alligator Army: Your word is correct: Finney-Smith and Harris will miss this road trip, while Wilbekin will miss it and three more games. Finney-Smith and Harris are serving three-game suspensions, while Wilbekin's out for six. (All three players missed Florida's exhibition game, which counts toward their suspensions.) There's some logic and reasoning that suggests failed drug tests are at fault here, but Florida's public line is "violations of team rules," and that's all we're going to get.
I'm not too worried about these actions becoming a trend — Wilbekin's a senior, and sounds like he's figured some stuff out this offseason, while Finney-Smith and Harris getting to watch other players absorb their minutes in their absence might be a motivator.
B5Q: Last season's contest in Gainesville was over early and Erik Murphy was the culprit. With Murphy and the starting backcourt (Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario) gone, how will this edition of the Gators look different than last year's?
AA: Well, for one, no one's shooting 10-for-10 from the field with the flu — probably. But Florida looks like it's going to be relying far more on its wing players' penetration this year, with those three shooters all gone and Wilbekin, an underrated one, out for a while. Look for Kasey Hill and Casey Prather to be Florida's two primary options on offense.
And, also, look for far less defensive effectiveness, at least on Tuesday. Florida's been almost embarrassingly bad at defending the perimeter thus far, and Patric Young, a solid interior defender, was atypically bad against North Florida, a team with all of one player taller than 6'8".
B5Q: One of the main concerns Badger fans have about Wisconsin this year is its post defense. Frank Kaminsky is the only experienced player with true size inside, but he's known more for his shooting than defense. Is that an area in which you expect Florida to have an advantage?
AA: If Young plays well, he should have an advantage on all but a few players in the country; he's that good when he's on, motivated, and full of energy. But Young scored just two points in that opener, and his post game can be mechanical and predictable, and there's no other Florida player who is really a threat on the block. If the Gators can work the ball to Prather in good situations, he could have success down low, but he's not backing anyone down.
B5Q: With so many key components out on Tuesday, what matchup scares you the most heading into this game?
AA: Is "all of them" not a good enough answer?
I like Hill and Prather to win their battles, and I think Young could be good if he can bounce back from his opener, but Florida's starting DeVon Walker and/or a still-recovering-from-mono Michael Frazier II at shooting guard, and a still-recovering-from-knee surgery Will Yeguete up front, and I think Wisconsin's likely to make mincemeat of one matchup or another; Bo Ryan's too smart not to do that.
B5Q: What have you seen from freshman point guard Kasey Hill so far? Is he the real deal? If this game comes down to a final possession, does Hill have the ball in his hands for the last shot, or is someone else the alpha dog?
AA: I really like Hill, and I've been on record saying that he could be the best point guard Billy Donovan's ever had for a while now. He's quick, smart, amply blessed with bounce — he had a blink-and-you-missed-it block while falling away from his man against North Florida — and flashed a really sweet shot from the left elbow in that opener. But he's a freshman, and though he's the guy who's clearly going to run this team on Tuesday night, I wouldn't be surprised to see him set up a final shot for someone else, instead of taking it on his own.
Then again, there's no other alpha dog, so...
B5Q: Care to make an over/under prediciton for number of whistles in this one? Wisconsin and St. John's combined for 51 fouls the other night. Even though Florida committed only 12 against North Florida, I'd guess that number will go up significantly at the Kohl Center. Do you think the tighter regulations on hand checking, arm bars, etc. will help or hurt the Gators?
AA: Florida may have committed only 12, but the Gators were in the bonus very early, and shot 31 free throws on the night — it was a tightly officiated game, even if Florida managed to avoid fouling, for the most part. (Both Hill and Young spent much of the first half on the bench with two fouls.)
I think Florida generally does a pretty good job of playing smartly on defense, but a couple of the reach-ins that would previously have been no-calls became fouls against North Florida, and the adjustment to the rules is going to be more gradual than pundits would like it to be. We'll see, in other words.
The one thing I didn't see getting called against North Florida that would really affect Florida? Young's very physical post defense. He didn't exactly play a lot of post defense in that opener, but if he's going to get away with a ton of body contact, it bodes well for his ability to do things in the post.
B5Q: Looking ahead, what's your prognosis for Florida overall this season? Will Chris Walker join the team for the second half? What's the ceiling for the Gators come tournament time?
AA: If everyone comes back, gels, and plays good defense, Florida's ceiling is winning a national title; if (and I think there's a good chance) Walker enrolls and adds an element of freakish athleticism to the team, that ceiling gets a lot closer to Florida's floor. This team will be very, very good if it can play defense and shoot, two things it probably won't do a lot of in the Kohl Center — but that team and the one Florida will have in March are likely to be very, very different.
You can catch more from a Florida perspective before and after the game on Twitter @AndyHutchins and @AlligatorArmy. For more game prep on the Gators, check out Andy's comprehensive countdown of the most important Florida players for 2013-14.
Catch the game at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 and check back with Bucky's 5th Quarter for our live game thread.
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For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.
More from Bucky's 5th Quarter:
- WISCruiting Roundup: Checking in with Joe Mixon, plus visits of the past and future
- Wisconsin defense review: Chris Borland, Mike Caputo contain BYU
- Week 11 Wisconsin grades: Running game, defense shine vs. BYU
- Podcast: Kielbasa Kings reviews BYU vs. Wisconsin, Scott Tolzien Time in Green Bay
- The Monday After: BYU vs. Wisconsin
- Opponent watch: Indiana is coming