Saddle Up: Zona takes trip without Turner

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
5:39
PM ET
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action.

Arizona at No. 12 Florida, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Even if Arizona point guard Josiah Turner had stepped into the starting lineup at Tucson seamlessly -- even if he was every bit as good as the big-time hype surrounding his arrival this season seemed to portend -- Arizona would be in for a very difficult road game Wednesday evening. But Turner has not lived up to the hype, at least not thus far. In fact, he currently is facing a one-game suspension for failing to meet coach Sean Miller's requirements and thus won't play at UF.

If there's a bright side for the Wildcats here, it's that losing Turner isn't that much of a blow, because Turner has consistently struggled throughout his first few weeks as a college basketball player. He lost his role in the starting lineup after just one game, and since then, he has averaged just 7.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 37.5 percent from the field and posting an offensive rating of 89.1. At least Arizona doesn't have to worry about replacing Turner's production. That should be easy enough.

The rest of this game, however, will be anything but easy. Florida's guard-dominated attack will pressure Arizona's thus-far-lackluster perimeter defense, while the return of forward Erik Murphy from injury will allow Florida to stretch the floor without sacrificing size, as it had to in his absence Friday night at Syracuse. Arizona doesn't force opposing guards into many turnovers, and it isn't particularly adept at closing out shooters. Florida, as you might know, has Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Bradley Beal and Mike Rosario floating around the perimeter, and while Boynton and Walker can still be maddeningly streaky, that foursome presents a significant mismatch for the Zona guards. Throw in the road trip and the eagerness with which Florida will surely view its opportunity to beat a brand-name program at home (as opposed to traveling to Columbus and Syracuse), and it's hard to imagine the Wildcats hanging around for long in this one. But we'll see.

No. 8 Xavier at Butler, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: First things first -- you should definitely watch this game. You might or might not need that note of approval, but I wanted to give it anyway.

Why? Simple enough: Xavier guard Tu Holloway is playing. Need I say more?

Holloway has been the most captivating player we've seen in college hoops this season, and I'm not sure there's a close second. And it's not just because he's good, although he is that. It's because he has a strange knack for struggling for 35 minutes and blowing your mind in the final five. He did it against Vanderbilt on Nov. 28. He did it again against Purdue on Saturday. Both games were almost entirely ugly for Holloway -- inefficient, sloppy, haphazard, you name it. But the senior led his team from behind at Vanderbilt, and he hit three straight 3s -- and went to the line twice -- in the final two minutes of Xavier's remarkable comeback against Purdue. It's crazy how good he's been late in games. It's can't-miss TV.

Then again, Holloway might not need late-game heroics Wednesday night, as Xavier travels to take on a clearly struggling Butler team still recovering from the losses of Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack from last season's second-straight NCAA tournament runner-up squad. The Bulldogs have some intriguing young talent, particularly forward Khyle Marshall and guard Chrishawn Hopkins, and center Andrew Smith is still developing his game around the rim. Put together, this is a pretty good Horizon League team. It is sure to improve as the season goes on. It is not, however, the Butler we've seen the past two Marches. Frankly, it isn't anywhere close.

Everywhere else: No. 15 Alabama has a pretty tricky little road game at Dayton, which is in something of a rebuilding mode under Archie Miller but is still more than capable of challenging top teams this season, especially at home. ... No. 22 Illinois has a chance to move to 9-0 with a home win over St. Bonnie's. ... New IUPUI coach Todd Howard faces a tall task at No. 4 Louisville. ... Colorado State visits No. 5 Duke. ... Wisconsin will look to rebound from Saturday's rare home loss to Marquette with another home date, this time against a considerably less-challenging Green Bay squad. ... A thoroughly rebuilding Georgia Tech team will face in-state rival Georgia in Athens.

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