Kansas game exemplifies philosophical change

Kansas game exemplifies philosophical change

Tuesday night in the O'Connell Center will be an illustration of change. It might not have happened years ago, but Florida head coach Billy Donovan and Florida administration wanted to switch the schedule. The goal was to bring more elite opponents to Gainesville early in the season, and No. 19 Florida faces its toughest test of the early season on Tuesday against No. 13 Kansas.

"I think for our school and our fans, it's great," Billy Donovan said. "Coming out of the Wisconsin game on the road the second game of the year made our team better. I think the UConn game, going through that experience made our team better. I'm sure this game will be the same way, where it's still pretty early in the season. Here it is December 10 and we've played several teams that will be ranked in the top 10 so you get a really good feeling of where you're at as a team.

"I think because our season is so long in basketball and people identify with our league in the SEC, we've made a philosophical change to say, ‘OK, let's try to play some games in the O'Connell Center in November and December that maybe our fans can identify with.' This will be one of those games people around the country and certainly here in Gainesville and here in Florida would identify with as a game. I think it's a great game for everybody all around."

Even with a 6-2 record, the Jayhawks come to Gainesville with a talented blend of veterans and elite freshmen. Freshman guard Andrew Wiggins is the most well known after being the top high school player in the country last year. The praise for Wiggins reached epic proportions before the season started, drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

In eight games this year, Wiggins leads Kansas with 15.3 points per game and is adding 5.5 rebounds. His athleticism and power make him a difficult combination for the Gators to prepare for on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

"When you are dealing with any talented player, you've always got to rely on help, principles, being in the right position and realizing that for us defensively it's never a one-on-one situation where we are just playing him one-on-one and this guy is guarding him and he's on an island by himself," Donovan said.

When the Gators have face an elite perimeter player in recent years, Scottie Wilbekin has drawn the responsibility. It won't be that clear on Tuesday, especially with the amount of help defense Donovan expects to use, but Wilbekin is also playing after suffering a high ankle sprain at Connecticut on December 2.

Donovan knows the hype that follows Wiggins and knows his defense will be tested on Tuesday.

"He's very, very gifted and a very, very talented player," Donovan said. "I think one of the things that always happens is when you see the amount of attention that somebody gets, sometimes the expectation when you see them play, it's almost very, very difficult at times to live up to those expectations. But he's a very, very good player. He'll be in the NBA next year. He's extremely explosive and athletic.

"Sometimes when you haven't seen him play, people here about him and when they go watch him play they're expecting 50 points, 25 rebounds, 10 assists and all sorts of crazy dunks, but he's a really good basketball player. That's the thing I respect about him is he seems to be a very good team guy. He seems to play very consistent and he seems to play very well with his team."

The frontcourt will also present challenges for Florida. Kansas starts a lineup with only two big men -- 6-9 forward Tariq Black and 6-8 forward Perry Ellis -- but they have size and length off the bench in Joel Embiid. The freshman center played his high school basketball in Gainesville, and now in just his third year of playing basketball, his future potential is all that people around the Kansas program and college basketball can talk about.

His 7-0, 250-pound frame combines with an advanced feel with the basketball and has NBA scouts drooling.

"Just great upside, I think his best basketball is going to be ahead of him," Donovan said. "He continues to get better and continues to improve. I think the one thing I respect about him is he's a kid just watching him play that, a lot of times frontcourt players in high school, they can be passive. They're so worried about getting into foul trouble and they're so worried about hitting people. Sometimes they feel like there's fouls that shouldn't be called. But for him, a very disciplined frontcourt player that has a high level of skill."

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