“It’s two totally different teams,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. “In losing Crowder and Odom, those guys were good players, but I actually think those guys have the ability and potential to be better than they were a year ago. When you look at their team, they’re incredibly balanced.”
Marquette is led in points (14) and rebounds (6.5) by a bench player, Davante Gardner. Junior guard Vander Blue is averaging 11.4 points after playing a key role on last year’s team, too.
Despite losing Crowder and Johnson-Odom last year, it’s a veteran starting lineup for the Golden Eagles (5-1) that features three seniors, one junior and one sophomore.
“They’ve got a really well balanced team,” Donovan said. “A year ago, their team kind of went as Crowder and Odom went. Right now, they’re really a balanced team.”
The veteran lineup means they all remember what happened during their Sweet 16 matchup last season. The Gators are expecting an all-out mentality from the Golden Eagles after the ten-point win for Florida last season.
“Any team, if you’ve been beaten the year before, will try to come and win the next year,” Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “I know they’re going to come in ready to play.”
The Golden Eagles have only lost once this season, and it came on a buzzer beating shot by Butler in the Maui Invitational.
The Gators won’t focus in much on the film from last season because of the differences in this year’s Marquette team. The players have changed, but the style hasn’t. Fifth-year head coach Buzz Williams has a style that will be in place regardless of his personnel, and that’s what the Gators have spent their practice time studying.
“The only thing we take from the game last year is a system,” Donovan said. “The one thing that will be the same for Marquette is that Buzz Williams has a system and a type of play that he wants to play. Some of the faces are different than a year ago, but we’ve had a chance to see that kind of system and style of play. That’s what you’re getting ready for.”
Florida big men Erik Murphy and Patric Young combined for 14 points in the game last season, but Williams has been preparing his team for the impact Murphy can have on a game. His scoring has become more well-rounded this season, but it’s his three-point shooting that scares Marquette the most.
“Erik Murphy presents a very unique matchup. If you study their numbers, he shoots just as many threes as anybody on the team. He rarely scores in the paint, unless it’s an offensive rebound. The problem we had last year was defending ball screens with him.
“Erik Murphy is really just a tall shooter. He’s not unskilled inside, but he’s a guy that wants to shoot threes.”
The Gators were without Will Yeguete last season, but Williams referred to the junior as a player that “has changed the complexion of the team.” Erving Walker went for 11 points against the Golden Eagles last year, but Williams thinks his departure could be a plus for the Gators.
“Erving Walker was a talented player, but I think they’re a better team with Wilbekin,” Williams said. “They’re really, really good.”