The only top-10 matchup of the week takes place in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday night. Two 7-0 teams look to remain perfect when the eighth-ranked Arizona Wildcats host the fifth-ranked Florida Gators at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Fans at the McKale Center can only hope that this game will be as exciting as last year’s overtime thriller, won by Florida, 78-72.
Solomon Hill hit three free throws with 4 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime, when Erving Walker scored seven of Florida’s 12 points in the extra period to lead his team to the win.
Florida winning with ‘D’
The Gators have been one of the most dominant teams in the country at both ends of the floor during the first month.
Florida is ranked ninth in Division I in offensive efficiency and fourth in defensive efficiency. The only other team in the nation ranked in the top 10 in both of those categories is Indiana.
The Gators were strong offensively last season (sixth in offensive efficiency) but struggled defensively (135th in defensive efficiency). They have transformed themselves in several areas on the defensive end this year.
They showed off their improved defense in a 72-47 victory over Florida State on Dec. 5. The Seminoles had two fast-break opportunities in the first six minutes and the Gators stopped them both times, forcing turnovers on each play. Florida used its defense to race out to a 12-2 lead and never looked back.
The Gators have not allowed any team to score more than a point per possession this season. They have already held four of their first seven opponents below 0.75 points per possession, something they did just once in 37 games last season.
The team has relied on relentless ball pressure to generate turnovers. Florida is forcing turnovers on more than one of every four opponent possessions this season, ranking third among Power 6 conference schools. Last season, that rate was less than 20 percent.
Another key improvement has been with the Gators’ transition defense. Last year teams ran all over Florida, scoring 1.09 points per play while shooting 55 percent from the floor on the break, both of which ranked second-worst among SEC defenses.
This year, 5 of 7 opponents have scored less than a point per play in transition against the Gators. Their transition defense now ranks second-best in the SEC in points per play (0.76) and field goal percentage allowed (39 percent).
Individually, Florida’s best defender this season has been guard Kenny Boynton, against whom opponents are 6-for-26 when shooting jump shots.
Boynton is allowing just 0.54 points per play as an on-ball defender, ranking fifth among the 48 SEC players with at least 40 plays.
The Wildcat challenge
Arizona will present the stiffest test yet for the Gators defense. The Wildcats rank eighth in offensive efficiency this season, averaging 117 points per 100 possessions.
One area of Florida’s defense that Arizona might able to exploit is in the post. Patric Young has struggled to defend post-ups, allowing his man to make 7 of 11 attempts. He has made up for his poor shooting defense by forcing three turnovers on such plays, and he has yet to commit a foul in that situation.
Wildcats freshman Kaleb Tarczewski has scored at a better-than-average rate in the post and has drawn a shooting foul on nearly a quarter of his post-up opportunities. He has also handled the ball well, turning it over just once in 18 plays in the post.
Stat of the game
The Gators are looking for their first road victory against a non-conference top-10 team under coach Billy Donovan. The Gators are 2-15 in road games against all top-10 opponents during his tenure, with victories at Kentucky in 1998 and Mississippi State in 2003.