College Hoops Monday: Your Commentary

December 20th, 2010
Finals week kicked off last week with Louisville and Tennessee picking up big wins on Saturday as the Cardinals beat UNLV while the Vols handled Pittsburgh. And what did both teams do in their next act? They lost games many expected them to win to Drexel and Oakland respectively. A key trait of teams who tend to reach high levels come March is the ability to maintain focus and take care of business regardless of the opponent, and that's why the matinee between Jacksonville (6-3) and Florida (8-2) is a game to keep an eye on. Billy Donovan's Gators are coming off of an impressive defensive performance against Kansas State, limiting the Wildcats to 22.2% shooting from the field (and 0-10 from three) in the second half of the 57-44 victory. Their play defensively helped make up for eighteen turnovers, and Kenny Boynton led three Gators in double figures with 15.

Florida goes into Monday's game with the nation's best strength of schedule and sits second in the RPI, but while those numbers may take a hit in playing Cliff Warren's Dolphins this could be a tough contest if they don't show up ready to go. Senior forward Ayron Hardy leads JU in scoring (12.6 ppg), rebounding (7.0 rpg) and assists (3.7 apg), but this is a balanced club that offensively has six other players who average at least seven points per game and four others who grab at least four rebounds. This is a balanced outfit that will win games this season due to the sum of the parts as opposed to one exemplary player. But the Dolphins are up against history as they've beaten Florida just once since 1980 (68-64 win in 1994) and the average margin of defeat is fifteen points.

Another issue for Jacksonville, who has dropped their last two games to Winthrop and Saint Louis, is their lack of size when compared to Florida. Forwards Delwan Graham and Shamile Jeffers are the tallest players in the Jacksonville rotation and they're both 6'7". Compared to the size and strength of players such as Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and Patric Young the Dolphins will be at a disadvantage on paper. But numbers don't account for the intangibles, meaning that they've got a chance provided they keep Florida off of the offensive boards (offensive rebound percentage of 39.5%). Add in the tough matchup of versatile wing Chandler Parsons and to say the least the Dolphins will have their work cut out for them. But with the tip being an afternoon game during the week, and with the students on holiday break, Jacksonville could put a scare into the Gators if Billy Donovan's team isn't focused on the task at hand. And as Louisville and Tennessee showed last week, doing such could result in an unexpected outcome.

Four other ranked teams are in action on Monday, including an inexperienced Memphis squad that's struggled with seemingly inferior competition this season (Arkansas State and Austin Peay have both taken the Tigers to overtime). Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is only 4-6 on the young season but they've played the 11th-toughest schedule in the nation thus far, including road games at Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Kansas, and the Islanders are coming off of a win over Houston. If any of the ranked teams in action could be susceptible to a pre-Christmas letdown it could be the Tigers, who are dealing with the loss of Wesley Witherspoon while also trying to figure out the roles of their talented youngsters. Winthrop's trip to Dayton could prove profitable for the Big South team given the Flyers' struggles at times, and Brian Gregory's team has proven to play only as well as PG Juwan Staten does running the show. And the Aeropostale Holiday Festival tips off in New York, with Northwestern and St. John's looking to move into Tuesday's title game with wins over St. Francis (NY) and Davidson respectively.

Top 25
7:00 PM Elon at (1) Duke (FS South)
7:00 PM Coppin State at (4) Connecticut (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Morgan State at (5) Syracuse (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Texas A&M-CC at (19) Memphis
1:00 PM Jacksonville at (24) Florida (ESPN3)

NCAA Division I Games
5:00 PM Valparaiso vs. Eastern Michigan*
7:00 PM American University at Mount St. Mary's
7:00 PM Bucknell at Cornell
7:00 PM Norfolk State at Virginia
7:00 PM Thomas More at Coastal Carolina
7:00 PM Illinois State at North Carolina-Wilmington
7:00 PM Belmont at Alabama State
7:00 PM South Dakota State at Central Michigan
7:00 PM Winthrop at Dayton (FS Cincinnati)
7:00 PM Towson at Hampton
7:00 PM Northwestern vs. St. Francis (NY)* (MSG)
7:30 PM Vermont at Fairfield
7:30 PM Rochester Coll at Oakland
8:00 PM Eastern Washington at South Dakota
8:00 PM Xavier LA at Southern University
8:00 PM North Dakota at Green Bay
8:05 PM Jackson State at Bradley
8:05 PM Western Illinois at Creighton
8:05 PM Savannah State at Arkansas State
9:00 PM Northern Colorado at Colorado State
9:00 PM Samford at Texas-San Antonio
9:00 PM Centenary at Wyoming
9:00 PM Mayville State at Utah Valley
9:30 PM Davidson at St. John's (MSG)
10:30 PM Portland State at Nevada
10:30 PM Stephen F. Austin at UTEP