Billy Donovan (left) and John Calipari will meet with first place in the SEC on the line Tuesday night.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – John Calipari sometimes grumbles at the imperfections in the way Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin play basketball. DraftExpress.com, a respected scouting web site, does not.
The site ranks Poythress (13th) and Goodwin (14th) as lottery picks in the 2013 NBA Draft. That gives Calipari three of the top 14 guys because Nerlens Noel, his freshman center, sits at the head of the class.
This is how many first-round picks will start for Florida Tuesday at 7 p.m. when the Gators host the Wildcats in Gainesville:
The most acclaimed player in Billy Donovan's lineup is Patric Young, an undersized center with shoulders like an aircraft carrier playing his third season for Florida. DraftExpress ranks Young No. 37, three spots behind Willie Cauley-Stein, a bench player for UK.
No wonder Donovan said that, "Kentucky is obviously very talented and continues to get better."
But if the Gators don't have anybody who makes NBA scouts hyperventilate, there is another list where you can find Donovan's team represented and Calipari's guys ignored.
That would be Ken Pomeroy's site for analyzing advanced college basketball statistics. Pomeroy ranks Young fifth and teammate Erik Murphy 10th in the race for the college game's player of the year. Florida guard Kenny Boynton has been ranked in the Pomeroy's top 10 for much of the season, too.
This is how many Top 10 player of the year candidates will start for Kentucky against Florida:
There is your game contrast: The unquestioned potential of Calipari's young and improving team against the savvy and grit of Donovan's veterans. With a 9-1 record in the Southeastern Conference, the Gators are only a game ahead of Kentucky.
Must-Win for Florida? You better believe it.
"Kentucky is certainly finding their identity," said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, who has played both teams. "That's to be expected as that team continues to garner their experience.
"Florida, a week ago, I thought was playing as well as anybody in the country. They ran into a buzz saw in Arkansas (losing 80-69 last week in Fayetteville). Arkansas made a bunch of shots. Played with great energy.
"I think it's a high-level game with two elite teams … I'm anxious to see Kentucky's continued maturation."
Kennedy isn't the only one.
Two weeks ago, when Kentucky traveled to Oxford to play Kennedy's team, the Wildcats needed a victory against a team that figures to make the NCAA Tournament. UK 87, Ole Miss 74.
This is a different assignment. Kentucky climbed to a nine-seed in Joe Lunardi's latest projected NCAA Tournament bracket last Friday. The Wildcats are no longer sweating Selection Sunday.
But if they defeat Florida, UK's post-season profile changes.
Are there reasons to pick Florida? You bet.
Try these three:
1. Vegas likes the Gators by 10, a half-point more than the gap that Jeff Sagarin's computer formula sees. Pomeroy has it Florida 75, UK 59. That doesn't sound like five overtimes to me.
2. Florida's guards play with the fearlessness of a safecracker. No current SEC player has more career points that Boynton. Scottie Wilbekin's assist-to-turnover ratio is as dazzling as Boynton's. Mike Rosario has made eight of his last 19 three-point shots.
No wonder Florida ranks first in the SEC in three-pointers made, three-point shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. The Gators have made 58 more threes than Kentucky.
"Your guard play just has to be extremely strong and disciplined in its approach because Florida tests your will with their defense," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.
3. The Gators have played 11 home games. Their smallest victory margin is 13 points. That isn't a puffed-up SEC stat. Wisconsin and Marquette also whiffed badly in Gainesville.
But Kentucky isn't Wisconsin. Or Marquette. John Calipari has won seven of eight against Donovan at UK. Here are three reasons to pick the Wildcats:
1. Florida is without Will Yeguete, the junior forward with a knee injury. DraftExpress isn't in love with him, but opposing SEC coaches are.
Sure, he only averages 6 points and 6 boards, but he is the Gators' glue guy. Donovan said his playing rotation depended upon Yeguete being able to guard opponents at three positions. Florida wasn't deep with Yeguete. Now Donovan has 22 minutes to fill.
2. Calipari loves being the underdog. Ask Milt Wagner. I did when Auburn was in Lexington Saturday. "This is the kind of situation Cal loves," said Wagner, the former University of Louisville star now an assistant coach at Auburn. "Nobody is going to pick him to win, but he's got the horses inside to play with anybody."
3. Size matters. Florida's backcourt is fearless, but the Gators' frontcourt has work to do. When the bright lights came on for a national TV game against Ole Miss two weeks ago, Noel showed there wasn't anybody in the SEC like him. He blocked a dozen shots. Noel has 103 blocks for the season, 29 more than Florida's entire roster. If the threes aren't falling, can Florida score around the basket?