- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Saddle Up is our semidaily preview of the night's best basketball action. Its circadian rhythm is going to be off for a little while.
No. 22 Wisconsin at No. 10 Florida, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Tip-Off Marathon is over, and the natural inclination is that college basketball would take a collective one-day breather -- if not for the sport itself, then for our editor's sake, at least. And that's mostly true, as the college hoops world is considerably quieter today. With rare exceptions, most of the games on tonight's slate will excite only the hardest of hard-core mid-major fans. Even then, the pickings feel slim.
Thankfully, there is one glaring exception: Wisconsin at Florida.
For much of the preseason, it appeared as though Wisconsin would be trudging to Gainesville especially short-handed. Point guard/team leader Josh Gasser tore his ACL in preseason practice. Before that, forward Mike Bruesewitz suffered a freak gash on his leg during one of the first practices of the season. Bruesewitz's injury was supposed to keep him out of the lineup for more than a month, but he made a surprise appearance in the season opener this weekend and scored 10 points in 13 minutes, so he should be available tonight.
That's good news, but Gasser's absence remains the single biggest question about Wisconsin going forward. Without their backcourt leader, the Badgers will split minutes among Ben Brust (an experienced sharpshooter), freshman George Marshall and sophomore Traevon Jackson. At forward, the Badgers are essentially set. Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans are two of the best interior defenders in the country. But the guard play remains unproven.
That is not necessarily the prognosis you want to hear before you travel to play a team that features Kenny Boynton, because Boynton doesn't really care who is on your team or what you do. He is going to shoot -- he is going to shoot a lot -- and he is going to score. Boynton launched 270 3s last season and made 44 percent of them. With Bradley Beal in the NBA lottery and Erving Walker no longer menacing the taco vendors of Gainesville, it is reasonable to expect Boynton to get even more touches this season.
Boynton was already efficient at high volume, and it's safe to expect the same going forward. The question is whether Florida's offense will become more balanced -- it's long past time for Patric Young to become a consistent post scorer -- and whether its defense, which finished ranked No. 71 in efficiency per KenPom.com last season (subscription required), will improve enough to make a run at the SEC title.
Besides an opportunity to see Florida for the first time -- its season opener with Georgetown was canceled due to "basketball being difficult to play on a ship" -- this is a clash of styles and systems. Wisconsin's defense is designed to protect the rim, run players off the 3-point line and force them to take the least efficient shot in the game, the midrange jumper. The Badgers were very good at this last season, but running Florida off the 3-point line is no easy task. The Gators shot 3s at the fifth-highest rate in the country last season, largely a result of a guard-heavy rotation.
Will the Gators adapt again this season, becoming more interior-oriented? Or will Boynton dominate the attack? Will Wisconsin's defense hold out? Are the Badgers' young guards worthy replacements?
As usual this early in the season, there are many more questions than answers. Less than a day removed from 24 hours of hoops, we resume filling in the blanks tonight.
Everywhere else: No. 15 Creighton welcomes a rebuilding UAB program to Omaha. I wouldn't expect this to be close, but if you want to catch a glimpse of Doug McDermott & Co., it's on ESPN3. ... Saint Louis should handle Santa Clara at home, but it should beware guard Kevin Foster, who put up 27 and 9 (on 7-for-15 3-point shooting) in his first game of the season. ... Georgetown will probably steamroll Liberty. ... And you can check out the rest of the night's not-exactly-enthralling action here.