College Basketball Nation: Kenny Boynton

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Leading scorer Sherwood Brown was a walk-on. Guard Bernard Thompson’s awkward shot scared most schools away. Dunking phenom Eddie Murray scored 11 points in an entire season two years ago.

Point guard Brett Comer led the Atlantic Sun Conference in assists this season. Not bad for a guy who had no idea how to play the position when he arrived in college.

These are the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 -- and the team you’ll be rooting for Friday evening.

Unless you’re a Florida fan, of course.

The third-seeded Gators (28-7) will try to avoid becoming FGCU’s latest upset victim when the teams square off in the South Regional semifinals at Cowboys Stadium. Andy Enfield’s squad opened NCAA tournament play by defeating 2-seed Georgetown and 7-seed San Diego State.

“We know the nation is behind us,” Murray said. “Everybody loves a Cinderella.”

Especially this Cinderella, with its motley crew of a roster filled with basketball vagabonds and unlikely success stories. The Eagles’ personalities make them easy to root for -- and their loose, high-flying, slam-dunking style of play has made them the must-watch team of the tournament.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Livingston
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsLeonard Livingston and FGCU are enjoying the ride to the Sweet 16, where No. 3 Florida is next.
“Our main goal is to have fun,” Comer said. “You’ll see Sherwood Brown with some kiss-blowing, some flexing. You’ll see Christophe Varidel do a heel click after a 3. It’s just the way we are.”

And that’s fine with Enfield.

“It’s the personality of our players and our team and our culture,” he said. “What you’re seeing is genuine. They enjoy being here. They enjoy playing the game of basketball.”

The Eagles (26-10) have certainly earned the respect of their opponent.

“It’s tremendous what they’ve done,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s been a great ride for them. NCAA tournament-history-wise, this has never happened. It’s a state-of-the-art, new thing.”

And the Florida Gulf Coast campus is relishing it.

When forward Chase Fieler walked into the bookstore on the school's Fort Myers campus this week, he said the place was so packed he could hardly move.

“You can’t really describe the atmosphere on campus,” he said. “It’s just been a busy week, with the attention and the media being around. It’s exciting.

“At the first news conferences [last week], people weren’t really sure what questions to ask us. They looked at us with blank stares. Now they’re asking us how we’re preparing for a No. 3 team, or they have questions for us personally. No matter what happens from here on out, this is something we’ll never forget.”

WHOM TO WATCH

Florida’s Erik Murphy, Patric Young, Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario each average between 10.3 and 12.8 points per game. Guard Scottie Wilbekin is the Gators’ defensive specialist. Florida Gulf Coast’s Eddie Murray and Chase Fieler have produced some of the NCAA tournament’s best dunks thus far.

WHAT TO WATCH

Florida Gulf Coast is the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16, so it’d obviously be a huge feat if the Eagles ended up in the Elite Eight. Florida has lost in the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons.

STAT TO WATCH

Billy Donovan’s Gators have been brutal in close contests this season. Florida is 0-6 in games decided by single digits.
AUSTIN, Texas -- A quick look at third-seeded Florida's 79-47 victory over 14th-seeded Northwestern State:

On a day filled with double-take, bracket-wrecking scores, Florida -- while not exactly doing things at a breakneck pace -- at least managed to more than comfortably slide past Northwestern State. And, this time of year, that is all that matters.

While the Demons (23-9) were able to hang closer than many expected for the first 25 minutes by getting solid looks near the rim, Florida stepped up its defense in the second half, controlled the glass and started to hit 3-pointers. Florida shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc to 18.8 percent for the Demons.

The Gators (27-7) had four players in double figures and were led by Erik Murphy with 18. Northwestern State, which substituted five players at a time, had nine players score but only one, DeQuan Hicks with 12, hit double figures.

Turning point: After keeping within arm's reach for the better part of 25 minutes, Northwestern State finally allowed Florida to slip to a double-digit lead. It started, as most things do when it comes to the Gators, with Kenny Boynton keeping the offense moving and getting to the line. Boynton's two free throws with 14:20 remaining gave Florida its first double-digit lead of the game. Murphy followed with a 3, and soon the Gators were able to build a comfortable margin against a team that could not produce the jump shots to keep up.

Key player: Murphy proved too difficult on the inside and out for Northwestern State. The 6-foot-10 senior went inside in the first half and followed that with a 3 in the second that keyed a 13-0 Florida run. Murphy finished 8-of-11 and had eight rebounds.

Key stat: Florida was able to dominate the offensive glass and, as a result, outscored Northwestern State 21-5 on second-chance points. The Gators' 13 offensive rebounds also forced the Demons to reach and foul on second-shot attempts, leading to 23 free throw attempts by Florida to 11 for the Demons.

Up next: Florida will play the winner of the No. 6 UCLA-No. 11 Minnesota game Sunday at the Erwin Center.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida’s stifling defense has been a constant all season.

But on Saturday, senior guard Kenny Boynton rediscovered his shooting stroke, which proved to be bad news for Alabama’s fleeting NCAA tournament hopes.

Boynton scored all 16 of his points in the second half and fueled a 15-0 run as top-seeded Florida rallied from a 10-point deficit to surge past Alabama 61-51 and move into the championship game of the SEC tournament.

The Gators (26-6) trailed by three points at the half and found themselves down by 10 points with 16:05 to play.

[+] EnlargeKenny Boynton
AP Photo/Dave MartinFlorida advanced to the SEC tournament title game behind senior Kenny Boynton's second-half surge.
Florida coach Billy Donovan had challenged his team, and Boynton specifically, in the halftime locker room. Boynton and the Gators missed several easy shots to open the game, and Donovan didn’t like what he saw in terms of body language.

“I told him that he was a senior in college right now and it’s time to fight,” Donovan said. “He got that look back, and his motor was running.”

So were the Gators, who were able to pull away despite finishing just 3-of-17 from 3-point range. Boynton, however, hit six of his nine shots in the second half, and 11 of his points came in the decisive run.

Florida went from 10 points down to a seven-point lead with 9:14 to play.

“Coach challenged me to come out and play with confidence, and I tried to step it up,” said Boynton, who had been held to single digits in three of his past five games.

Florida’s defense was a perfect complement to Boynton’s offensive awakening in the second half. The Gators held the Crimson Tide to just 23 points.

“They’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the country all year,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said.

Alabama (21-12) desperately needed a win over a marquee opponent like Florida to make a serious case for an NCAA tournament bid. The Crimson Tide defeated Tennessee in the quarterfinals Friday, but their résumé is pretty blasé over the course of the whole season.

Grant was in no mood to politic Saturday or state his case to the NCAA tournament selection committee.

“I don’t deal in that, don’t deal in it,” Grant said. “They’ve got a tough enough job.”

For the Gators, it’s a chance to double as SEC regular-season and tournament champions. They’ve done that only one time in school history -- 2007 when they won their second straight national championship.

“This time of year, you know, a lot of times it’s not always the team that can play the prettiest or it comes the easiest,” Donovan said. “Sometimes, it's got to be a will and a fight internally to try and make some things happen. I thought our defense continued to be better, and that was encouraging to me to see these guys battle and fight.”

Video: Florida 64, Alabama 52

March, 2, 2013
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Kenny Boynton scored 13 points to move into second place among Florida's all-time scorers.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Fourth-ranked Florida was finally tested in Southeastern Conference play on Saturday night.

The Gators had a little trouble, but they still aced it.

Florida never trailed and led by double digits for more than 30 minutes in a 78-64 victory over Ole Miss in front of 12,522 at the O’Connell Center. The 14 points was the lowest margin of victory the Gators have had in SEC play -- and they still were never in danger of losing the game.

"This was our toughest game, by far," point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "They didn’t make it easy on us. We had to come out and play our best basketball. They had a lot of different weapons and we just had to try and shut them down."

Florida (18-2, 8-0 SEC) had won its previous seven SEC games by an average of 28.3 points. The Gators had beaten four opponents by 31 or more points and the closest game they had played was a 17-point victory at Georgia -- a team they had beaten by 33 points to open league play.

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AP Photo/Phil SandlinFlorida's Scottie Wilbekin shoots a 3-pointer on his way to 13 points against Ole Miss.
Florida took a double-digit lead with 10 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the first half and Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2) never got closer than 12 points in the second half. That’s despite getting 25 points from Marshall Henderson, who made 7-of-11 3-pointers. The SEC’s leading scorer had to work for his points, though, and made several leaners and tough shots over Wilbekin and guard Kenny Boynton.

"He’s going to get his shots up," UF forward Erik Murphy said. "He’s going to get to the free-throw line. He’s really good at that. He’s crafty. We just wanted to try to limit his open shots. I think we did a pretty good job of that. He hit some tough ones. Some of the shots he hit, up-and-under, step-in, floater 3s, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody do that."

But even with Henderson and Murphy Holloway (15 points, seven rebounds), the Rebels were no match for the Gators. Murphy scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds, center Patric Young had a double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Wilbekin added 13 points and seven assists. Boynton had a career-high 10 assists and only two turnovers.

UF forced 13 turnovers and Ole Miss had just five assists on 21 baskets. Henderson went 8-for-15 from the floor, but the rest of the team went 13-for-40 from the field (32.5 percent) -- including 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said he’s never seen anything like the Gators’ defensive performance Saturday.

"This is my seventh Florida team to play [and] one of those was the national championship team that had NBA lottery picks on it," Kennedy said. "I don’t even remember a Florida team guarding with that intensity. I was really impressed with the way they defended.

"… I was hoping that Florida would have a little drought. Just a two-, three-minute phase where they go bored -- and they never got bored."

Florida is now in control of the SEC. The Gators have a two-game lead over Ole Miss, Alabama and Kentucky, all of whom are 6-2. UF’s 8-0 start to league play is the school’s best since the second of the Gators’ back-to-back national championship teams started 11-0 in 2007.

"We’re happy where we are, but it’s just so quick," Boynton said. "There are 18 games in the SEC schedule so it could change. We’ve got to take each game one at a time."

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A quick look at No. 4 Florida’s 78-64 victory over No. 16 Ole Miss on Saturday night at the O’Connell Center:

Overview: This one wasn’t as easy as the previous seven Southeastern Conference games, but the Gators still managed another double-digit victory.

Erik Murphy scored 19 points -- thanks to a 5-for-6 performance from 3-point range -- and grabbed six rebounds. Patric Young had a double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Mike Rosario had 14 points.

Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2 SEC) scored the most points on Florida (18-2, 8-0 SEC) since the Gators gave up 67 to Kansas State on Dec. 22. No team had scored more 61 since then. Marshall Henderson led Ole Miss with 25 points.

Turning point: Ole Miss cut Florida’s lead to 13 points with seven minutes remaining, but Murphy responded with a solid two-minute stretch on both ends of the floor that put the game out of reach.

Murphy hit a 3-pointer to put UF ahead 66-50 and then blocked Murphy Holloway’s shot. After a Young basket, Murphy grabbed a defensive rebound. The Gators turned the ball over, but Murphy made up for that by forcing another turnover that led to Scottie Wilbekin’s basket to put UF ahead 70-50 with five minutes to play.

Key player: Florida guard Kenny Boynton didn’t shoot the ball well (3-for-13), but he did a good job of sharing and taking care of it. Boynton had a career-high 10 assists while turning the ball over just twice. That gives him 17 assists and two turnovers in his past two games.

Entering the game, Boynton had compiled 25 assists and had turned the ball over only four times in SEC play.

Key stat: The biggest difference in how the teams played showed up in the assist totals. The Gators had 23 assists on 32 baskets while the Rebels had just five assists on 21 baskets. Florida entered the game averaging 17 assists per game in SEC play. Ole Miss was averaging 11.5.

Miscellaneous: Florida has won 10 games in a row, the school’s longest streak since winning 10 in a row in the 2008-09 season … The Rebels haven’t beaten a top-five team since beating Florida in the 2001 SEC tournament … Florida’s 14-point victory was its closest in SEC play. The Gators had won their previous seven SEC games by 28.3 points, and the closest victory was 17 points over Georgia on Jan. 23.

Next game: Florida plays at Arkansas on Tuesday; Ole Miss plays host to Mississippi State on Wednesday.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A quick look at No. 10 Florida’s 83-52 victory against No. 17 Missouri on Saturday afternoon at the O’Connell Center:

Overview: This was supposed to be a battle between the SEC's two best teams.

That lasted less than five minutes.

Florida rolled out to a quick start and completely dominated the Tigers. In doing so, the Gators (14-2, 4-0 SEC) have pretty much established themselves as the class of the league. Missouri (13-3, 2-2 SEC) was overwhelmed offensively and defensively, and ended up shooting a season-low 32.7 percent from the field.

Florida had four players score in double figures. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin had 13 points and 10 assists, forward Erik Murphy scored 15 points, and guard Kenny Boynton scored 14.

Turning point: How about the game’s first 3:14. Florida raced out to an 11-0 lead during that span, and Missouri only pulled within single digits once after that. Missouri committed two turnovers and went 0-for-5 from the field while Florida went 4-for-5. The Gators scored two baskets in the game’s first minute, including a big dunk by Patric Young, and that got the crowd in the sold-out O’Connell Center into the game pretty quickly.

Key player: Wilbekin had another dominant defensive performance. Two days after shutting down Texas A&M’s Elston Turner, Wilbekin blanketed Missouri point guard Phil Pressey, holding him to two points on 1 of 7 shooting. Pressey, who had been averaging 13.8 points 9.8 assists in his previous six games, had 6 assists and 10 turnovers.

Key stat: Florida and Missouri finished with a similar amount of turnovers, but the Gators did a much better job of capitalizing on the Tigers’ mistakes. Florida scored 34 points off Missouri’s 21 turnovers. The Gators had 22 points off 11 Tigers turnovers in the first half. Missouri scored 12 points off Florida's 16 turnovers.

Miscellaneous: Coach Billy Donovan picked up his 400th victory at Florida. Only two other coaches, Adolph Rupp (876) and Dale Brown (448), have won 400 or more games at an SEC school. Donovan is 400-160 in his 17 seasons at Florida. He is 435-180 in his 19 seasons as a head coach. … Missouri was without leading scorer Laurence Bowers (16.8 ppg), who is still recovering from a sprained MCL in his right knee. He hasn’t played since the Tigers’ 84-68 victory against Alabama on Jan. 8. … Florida hasn’t allowed more than 52 points in its four SEC games. … The Tigers were the nation’s top rebounding team (43.8 per game), but the Gators out-rebounded them 35-25.

Next game: Florida plays at Georgia on Wednesday; Missouri plays host to South Carolina on Tuesday.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

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Just when we thought we understood the enigma known as the SEC -- just when I’d felt comfortable with my weekly rankings -- SEC play began. And the madness continued. We’ll get through this together.

1. Florida -- The Gators have the most complete team in the SEC right now. They opened up SEC play with a 33-point win against Georgia on Wednesday night. They’re balanced, experienced and talented. Few teams in this league can say that. Their losses (Arizona, Kansas State) weren’t bad losses. And I still think that this team is growing. Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Patric Young anchor Florida’s core, but they’re also assisted by talented reserves such as Will Yeguete.

2. Missouri -- The Tigers were more efficient in their Tuesday victory against Alabama than they were in a nail-biter against Bucknell over the weekend. But they lost Laurence Bowers to a knee injury in that game. That’s clearly a concern as they prepare for an Ole Miss team that is more than capable of pulling off the upset, especially at home. I still think that the Tigers rely on Phil Pressey too much, and that’s going to cost them at times this season, possibly as soon as Saturday when they face the Rebels without Bowers.

3. Ole Miss -- The Rebels had such a poor nonconference strength of schedule (No. 241 per ESPN.com’s RPI rankings) that their impressive stats (top 40 in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings) have been difficult to trust. But Ole Miss opened up SEC play with a dominant win at Tennessee. No, the Vols aren’t the crème de la crème of the conference. But they’re definitely better than Mississippi Valley State and East Tennessee State, two teams the Rebels faced during their nonconference slate.

4. Kentucky -- As I watched the Wildcats on Thursday night, I realized that I’d given the hype more credit than it deserved. Yes, I still believe Kentucky could be the best team in the conference by the end of the season. But what evidence do I really have to assume that the Wildcats will come anywhere close to their potential? They blew a 47-31 lead at Vanderbilt, a team that lost to Marist by 17 points. So I’m still waiting for Kentucky to prove that it’s more than a bunch of NBA prospects that can’t play together.

5. Tennessee -- Tennessee’s offense has been a concern all season. But in its past two games, its defense has been the issue. The Vols gave up 85 points to Memphis and 92 points to Ole Miss in back-to-back losses. I still think Tennessee is one of those squads that could give any team in the conference trouble. But the Vols haven’t put together a run that has showcased their potential. This pattern will lead to an average finish in the SEC if Cuonzo Martin can’t find a way to reverse it.

6. Auburn –- So, I’m surprised, too. But I think Auburn deserves a slot in the top half of the league. Why not? Tony Barbee’s program knocked off LSU in its SEC opener Wednesday night, even though leading scorer Frankie Sullivan (17.2 ppg) fouled out after scoring 10 points. Junior Allen Payne has played well during a stretch that’s featured five wins in seven games (the Tigers suffered a two-point loss at Illinois on Dec. 29).

7. Texas A&MElston Turner (15.5 ppg) and Co. have won three in a row since a 53-51 home loss to … Southern on Dec. 22. The Aggies crushed Arkansas 69-51 in their SEC opener Wednesday night. So perhaps that loss to Southern won’t define their season. The Aggies have held their opponents to 58.6 ppg, second in the conference. But like so many teams in this league, they amassed that sexy stat against a lukewarm nonconference slate. Their dominance Wednesday night, however, suggests that they might be one of the best average teams in the conference. A road win against Kentucky on Saturday would send a message to the league.

8. Alabama -- I was searching for signs of progress on Tuesday night. I mean, Bama has to do something. Fast. And the Crimson Tide had their chance in Columbia. The team was down 40-36 at halftime. And then, Bama arrived. Anthony Grant’s squad was outscored 44-32 in the second half. Alabama finished with 16 turnovers and shot 5-for-17 from the 3-point line. This isn’t an issue with injuries. This is just a team that apparently can’t complete games. They’re talented enough to play with any team in the conference in stretches. Winning, however, is still a problem.

9. LSU -- Johnny Jones’ squad didn’t commence SEC play with a bang. Instead, the Tigers lost on the road to Auburn. They didn’t accrue any meaningful wins during a weak nonconference slate. So I never believed the 9-2 record that they took into that game. I figured if they couldn’t handle the ball against McNeese State (19 turnovers) and Houston Baptist (15 turnovers), then they’d probably have trouble in the SEC. Their 12 turnovers in the Auburn loss were costly. They missed 6 of 10 free throws. LSU’s inflated nonconference record might have been debunked in the SEC opener.

10. Arkansas -- The Razorbacks average 80.6 ppg, ranked 11th nationally. That offense is their only ticket to any respectable finish in the SEC. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell average 31.4 ppg for Mike Anderson. So how did Arkansas end up with 51 points at Texas A&M? Well, Powell’s foul trouble and zero points certainly didn’t help. This squad had won five in a row against a lackluster assembly of nonconference opponents entering the game. Meaningless. They barely cracked 50 points against a midlevel SEC squad. It’s not the end of the world for the Razorbacks. But Anderson has to figure out what’s up with Powell (17 points combined in past three games) going forward.

11. Mississippi State -- Speaking of effort, how about the Bulldogs winning their SEC opener against South Carolina 56-54? After the win, Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray tweeted, “Thank you to the Bulldog fan base for all of the congratulatory tweets. I appreciate it. Prepping for Georgia now. Grindin' for my State!” He should be pumped for his program, which has struggled all season. The Bulldogs have won three of four.

12. Vanderbilt -- Kudos to Kevin Stallings’ squad for nearly knocking off Kentucky at home Thursday night. The Commodores overcame a 16-point deficit and put themselves in a position to pull off the upset. But they fell short. Now, it should be noted that the finish was corrupted by an obvious shot-clock violation on a Nerlens Noel bucket with 17.3 seconds to go. But the true moral of the story is that you should always avoid a 16-point deficit when possible. Vandy’s effort in the second half was commendable. But the SEC standings don’t have an “effort” column.

13. South Carolina -- Frank Martin, this is your team. The Gamecocks, like most of the league, grabbed 10 nonconference wins against a poor schedule. So they entered SEC play as a mystery. They hadn’t proven anything. What did they do in their first conference test? They committed 24 turnovers. The Gamecocks have been fumbling all season against lesser programs. And that weakness affected the outcome in their conference opener. Check the box scores. Turnovers have plagued this program all season. And it will be its biggest issue in SEC play.

14. Georgia -- Mark Fox has a really, really good player named Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17.0 ppg). He’s a star. But he doesn’t have much to put around him. So the Bulldogs are averaging just 59.4 ppg, No. 321 in Division I. In their 33-point loss to Florida on Wednesday night, Caldwell-Pope (11 points) was the only player who cracked double figures. Now, the loss did stop a four-game winning streak. But it’s just difficult to see how Fox’s program will avoid the league’s basement if it expects one player to carry the load every night.

Behind the Numbers: Florida-Arizona

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Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesBilly Donovan and Kenny Boynton have worked to make Florida better.

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.

Weekend Watch: Florida-Arizona preview

December, 14, 2012
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Mark Lyons and Kenny BoyntonUSA TODAY Sports, Icon SMIDon't be surprised to see Kenny Boynton, left, and Mark Lyons take crucial shots on Saturday night.
Editor's note: Each Friday morning, Jay Bilas will break down the weekend's top game. This week it’s No. 5 Florida (7-0) at No. 8 Arizona (7-0) at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN.

Gators outlook: The difference for Florida this season is defense. Last season, UF gave up 40 percent shooting from 3-point range and got hurt by being overextended. This season, the Gators are staying home more and packing it in. Instead of playing out in passing lanes and denying, they are playing off more, not playing as far up the line, and showing their chests to the ball and building a wall to protect the lane and the rim. That has meant fewer help rotations and better defensive rebounding, limiting opponents to one challenged shot (outrebounding opponents by 10.7 per game). The results are obvious. Florida has a top-five defense, and has done it with both man-to-man and zone. The Gators still press, speed the game and make you play at a speed you don’t practice. And they have done a great job of not just forcing turnovers, but converting off turnovers. Florida has scored more than twice as many points off turnovers as its opponents (21.3 to 9.9).

On the offensive end, UF is a ball-screen team that can really stretch out a defense, and really attacks and gets to the free throw line. Florida has made more free throws than its opponents have attempted. Four Gators average between 14.4 points and 10.3 points per game. This is a team that scored 74 points against Wisconsin, a team that gave up only 53 points per game last season, and blasted Marquette and Florida State.

Florida has good, experienced guards in Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin, a strong presence in Patric Young (an interior player who, when he keeps it simple, can be really effective), and an elite and versatile defender in Will Yeguete, who can defend multiple spots, get offensive rebounds and affect the game without scoring.

Wildcats outlook: Last season, Arizona was not a great shooting team, but could not compensate for it with second-shot opportunities or post-ups because Sean Miller did not have the personnel. This season, he has the personnel. The Wildcats have great size up front and very good depth. (But don’t listen to those who suggest that having big-guy depth gives you extra fouls to waste, which is silly. You don’t waste fouls, which puts your opponent at the free throw line for common fouls and leads to losses.) With freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett, Miller has two big men who can affect the game. Tarczewski is a traditional low-post banger who seeks out contact and can score around the goal, and is the team's top rebounder. Jerrett is a long-armed big man who can step away and knock in an open 3-point shot.

Arizona has good guards, good size and good balance. Another frontcourt player to watch is Brandon Ashley, a freshman who has a terrific understanding of the game, can really hit the glass and can go off the bounce. Ashley has been up and down, but he put up 20 points and 10 rebounds against Long Beach State, and just had nine points and six rebounds at Clemson. With Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, Miller has an experienced, big-game guard who is unafraid of anything but takes some criticism for being loose with the ball. Lyons has more turnovers than assists, but he is hardly a turnover machine. He can attack pressure and score or get fouled, and that will be an asset against Florida.

Nick Johnson is leading the Wildcats in scoring, assists and steals, and is a tremendous athlete with explosiveness, transition ability and the ability to defend. Johnson can shoot it and can get to the rim and finish. He has been the Wildcats’ best player in the first month and a half. A key player against Florida will be Solomon Hill, a versatile and skilled wing who can see the floor and handle the ball. He will be vital in the press offense. Hill has not shot the ball well this season and is coming off a 2-for-16 night at Clemson, but he is UA’s most versatile and most valuable player.

Gators go-to: Kenny Boynton. An outstanding defender who has been doing a very good job getting into the lane and getting to the free throw line, Boynton is one of the best senior guards in the country. He is averaging 14.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, and is shooting 90 percent from the free throw line. He can get hot in a hurry and is rarely rattled. Boynton needs to play well for Florida to win on the road.

Wildcats wonder: Lyons. He is an attack guard who can really score and is willing to take on any challenge. Lyons is averaging 13 points per game, yet is third on the team in shots taken, and is coming off a 20-point game against Clemson. Against the full-court pressure of Florida, expect Lyons to be on the attack and to look to score against pressure.

Gators X-factor: Erik Murphy. The most impressive individual performance I have seen all season was Murphy’s 24-point perfect game against Wisconsin in which he did not miss a single shot. Murphy can really shoot it and is a terrific pick-and-pop big man. He is skilled and can score in the post or step away. He will provide a tough matchup for any Arizona big man, but I expect Hill to take him on, which will be a great matchup. Hill is an underrated defender, and he was terrific this summer at the Nike Skills Academies.

Wildcats X-factor: Kevin Parrom. This strong senior wing has been through a lot in his career and has come through stronger. He originally signed with Xavier, was the victim of a gunshot wound in his own home in New York, yet has been an efficient offensive player who excels in transition, can drive the ball, hit open 3s and find the open man. Parrom also is a willing defender. In a high-level game with young teammates, his toughness and ability can make a big difference.

Key stats: Three-point field goal defense and points off turnovers. Florida feeds off turnovers and can turn a mistake or a bad shot into a layup or opportunistic 3 on the other end. And the Gators are not shy about pulling the trigger on a 3 in transition. The Wildcats cannot turn the ball over and expect to win. Turnovers take away a shot opportunity but also take away a chance for an offensive rebound or foul while putting your defense at a disadvantage. Arizona does not defend the 3-point line as well as the rim, and Florida will involve the young big men in ball screens high and flat and on the sides. How the Cats guard those screens and rotate will be a key factor in the game.

Who wins: Arizona has to get out in front of Florida early and stay in front. The Gators have trailed only twice this season and have not trailed a single second after the first five minutes of any game. This game will be about making decisions and completing plays. The Wildcats have to guard ball screens with a plan, handle pressure in full-court situations, and then handle both man and zone with both aggressiveness and patience. Florida is the better team, but this is the toughest environment the Gators have faced this season. I favor the Gators in this one, but not by much. Florida wins 76-72.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

November, 30, 2012
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By now, many assumed that Kentucky would own the No. 1 post in the SEC. As I compile the first edition of ESPN.com’s power rankings for the conference, however, I’m not even sure they’re No. 2. The Wildcats have faced some tough teams but they’ve been inconsistent. It’s early, so these rankings will change. But the Gators are on top. It might be tough for the rest of the league to knock them off their perch, too.

1. Florida. The Gators destroyed Wisconsin and crushed Marquette in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Kenny Boynton is one of four players averaging double figures for the 6-0 squad. Plus, Florida has been one of the nation’s most efficient offensive and defensive units in November.

2. Missouri. Michael Dixon Jr. leaving the program is certainly a blow for the Tigers, but they’re still one of the league’s best teams. Phil Pressey (15.0 points, 6.2 assists per game) and Laurence Bowers (14.2 ppg, 6.3 rebounds per game) have led Frank Haith’s squad to victories over Stanford and Virginia Commonwealth in recent weeks.

3. Kentucky. John Calipari’s young squad has been battered by some of the nation’s top teams, suffering losses to Duke and Notre Dame (on the road). The 14-point loss against the Fighting Irish on Thursday was a blow to its ego but the Wildcats could shake it off Saturday if they get a win over Baylor.

4. Alabama. I’m not sure whether I believe Alabama’s 6-0 start but I believe in Trevor Releford (18.6 ppg) and the leadership he’s provided for Anthony Grant’s squad. The Crimson Tide have been tough on defense. And they can prove that this start hasn’t been a fluke when they visit No. 17 Cincinnati on Saturday in the SEC/Big East Challenge.

5. Tennessee. The Vols were overmatched against Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico but they bounced back with a victory over UMass and then crushed Oakland, a Summit League contender, by 27 points. A win at No. 20 Georgetown on Friday would certainly elevate Tennessee nationally.

6. Ole Miss. The Rebels haven’t played a high-major opponent this season, but they’ve crushed the non-BCS opponents on their schedule by an average of 29.2 ppg. Andy Kennedy’s 5-0 squad has looked good thus far, but this start won’t mean much until it starts SEC play in January.

7. Arkansas. The Razorbacks lost to Wisconsin and Arizona State during the Las Vegas Invitational. But I still think this Arkansas team, led by BJ Young (20.5 ppg) and Marshawn Powell (12.2 ppg), is better than most of the teams in the SEC. Friday’s home matchup against No. 6 Syracuse will be an opportunity to show it.

8. Texas A&M. Elston Turner (15.7 ppg) is one of three players averaging double figures, and freshman J'Mychal Reese (7.3 ppg) has been a young standout for a 5-1 Aggies squad that’s beaten teams it’s supposed to defeat. The Aggies did give up 70 points (and only recorded 49) against a Saint Louis squad that’s rarely recognized for its offense.

9. LSU. Johnny Jones’ tenure has started off with five wins and zero losses, including Thursday’s 72-67 victory over Seton Hall. And with a small sample size, the Tigers are top-100 in defensive efficiency. Could be worse for a program that’s struggled in recent years.

10. Georgia. The Bulldogs need to stop the bleeding after losing four of their past five games, although two of those losses came against Indiana and UCLA. They’ll play at South Florida on Friday in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Few SEC squads need a win as badly as Mark Fox’s.

11. South Carolina. Frank Martin’s team is in a bad spot. The Gamecocks lost to Elon last week and suffered a 24-point defeat to St. John’s on Thursday. Bruce Ellington’s return, until the football team begins prep for its bowl game, is a plus for the squad.

12. Auburn. The Tigers have lost close games to Boston College (50-49) and Rhode Island (double overtime). Frankie Sullivan (18.3 ppg) shoulders the bulk of the offensive burden and that’s one of the 2-4 team’s problems: It lacks balance.

13. Vanderbilt. The Commodores, who lost every significant player from last season's rotation, get a pass for losses at Oregon and to Davidson (at a neutral site). Scoring 33 points against Marist? Ugh.

14. Mississippi State. Rick Ray walked into a messy situation when he accepted the head-coaching job last spring. These Bulldogs have struggled on both ends of the floor. It’s worth noting, however, that Marquette, Texas and North Carolina were responsible for three of their four losses.

Video: Florida 79, Central Florida 66

November, 23, 2012
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Kenny Boynton scores 24 points in No. 7 Florida's 79-66 win over Central Florida on Friday.

3-point shot: Problems at the point

November, 9, 2012
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1. Leadership at point guard will determine a likely champion of a league and/or the nation. That’s why it is disturbing that three schools are dealing with issues at the position. Michigan had to suspend Trey Burke. Texas isn’t playing Myck Kabongo in Friday's opener against Fresno State while the NCAA continues to investigate if he received an extra benefit during a workout last spring in Cleveland. Missouri has suspended guard Michael Dixon Jr. (who was supposed to start next to SEC preseason player of the year Phil Pressey). Now Florida coach Billy Donovan has suspended starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin for Friday’s opener against Georgetown in Jacksonville, Fla. I had Florida as a Final Four team, but not having Wilbekin on board diminishes the Gators’ chances. They need a steady hand next to Kenny Boynton. The question on this team was at the point -- and now Wilbekin has raised more concern.

2. One of the things that coach John Calipari has maximized more than any predecessor at Kentucky is how to get as much out of the Big Blue Nation as possible. If the Wildcats are winning at a high level and not having issues, the passionate fan base seems to do whatever is needed for the program. Calipari has also been able to tap that resource with million-dollar relief efforts, first for Haiti and now for the storm-ravaged New York-New Jersey area. Calipari can be a lightning rod, but he has learned how to capitalize on all things Kentucky during his three-plus seasons in Lexington -- including finding ways to raise money for causes.

3. The floor being used in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night at Ramstein Air Base in Germany was made by the same company that does the floors for the NCAA tournament and Final Four. Connor Sports Flooring, a US-based company, flew the floor in multiple pieces to Germany, where it was assembled Thursday. The color scheme is the same as the NCAA tournament floors, with black end lines and blue lettering spelling out Ramstein. The Armed Forces Classic decal was put down on the floor at center court -- something officials will be watching closely this season. The decals or logos must have a consistent finish with the rest of the floor.

Bruce Pearl breaks down our fantasy draft

November, 6, 2012
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What a great exercise it was in getting our experts here at ESPN to put together a fantasy draft for the upcoming college basketball season! If only it were that easy. I guess the closest thing to that we’ve seen recently was Kentucky’s national championship team a year ago.

You can vote on who you think picked the best team here. Here's how I think they did:

Like any fantasy draft, the first pick is a huge plus, and Joe Lunardi certainly took advantage of his position by taking Cody Zeller. Zeller is arguably the best player in the country -- and is an oh-so-valuable center, which gives Lunardi a strong edge in his frontcourt. To give you an idea, the next center taken was an unproven freshman in Nerlens Noel.

[+] EnlargeTony Mitchell
Andrew B. Fielding/US PresswireThe likes of North Texas' Tony Mitchell give Joe Lunardi's team the edge in Bruce Pearl's book.
Myron Medcalf’s team has incredible defensive cohesion and may be the most complete team when thinking about both ends of the court. Aaron Craft (Ohio State) and Kenny Boynton (Florida) are exceptional defensively and Jeff Withey is a premier shot-blocker. With Rick Pitino pulling the strings, this is not a team that would be easy to score on and, when you throw in Doug McDermott’s ability to carry a team scoring-wise, this team has the potential to be special.

I liked how Eamonn Brennan and Fran Fraschilla took some chances that could pay off in the long run. Isaiah Canaan (Murray State) and C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) showed how dynamic they can be last season. Can they do it again now that they have a target on their backs? Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina) and Phil Pressey (Missouri) tasted success last season, but now they are “the man” on their respective teams. How will that affect them? Lastly, Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee) is a beast, but Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA) is not eligible yet, and Noel may be limited offensively.

What stood out to me was the appropriateness of the coaches taken by each expert. Tom Izzo heads a perennial championship-contending team at Michigan State and has the most proven roster to work with. Pitino is masterful in getting the most out of his guys, especially on the defensive end, and has some real playmakers on both sides of the ball. Mike Krzyzewski is unbelievable at bringing together a mix of playing styles (see his two Olympic gold medals) and has highly talented but unproven players. And John Calipari is great at working with young talent and putting guys in positions to be effective, which is a must for Fran’s roster.

Overall, I would rank the teams as (1) Lunardi, (2) Medcalf, (3) Brennan and (4) Fraschilla. Lunardi’s team separates itself with its mix of skill and grit. Tony Mitchell may be the best player nobody has heard of, Trey Burke is a playmaker who can distribute the ball, and Zeller is probably the national player of the year. I love dimensions as a coach. Florida State’s Michael Snaer might be the toughest, most competitive player in the country, Duke’s Mason Plumlee -- the best of the Plumlees -- will be a great glue guy on this team. Oh, and Butler’s Rotnei Clarke can make shots the minute he crosses half court.

On Election Night, one thing is clear: Joe Lunardi has gone from bracketologist to fantasy guru!
You can’t learn how to dunk. You either jump, or you don’t. You can, however, learn how to shoot: feet shoulder-width apart, right foot an inch ahead of left, elbow over the knee, wrist parallel to the floor, ball gently placed in fingertips, elbow straight, up and out, follow through with the wrist. Rinse, repeat.

That’s the great thing about the art of long-range shooting. It requires nothing but a few quick mechanics and tons and tons and tons of practice. The best players in the world are rarely the best shooters, because they don’t have to be. But if you can master your shot, you can level the playing field at all levels, from your local pickup game to the NBA. And aesthetically, there are few things more satisfying than watching a beautifully shot ball drop perfectly through the net. I love good shooting.

As you can imagine, it was rather fun to put together the following list -- the nation’s 10 most dangerous 3-point shooters. (Freshmen, as always, were excluded.)

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Let’s get one thing clear: There are 3-point specialists on this list that have made more 3-pointers than McDermott in his career. They are arguably better “pure” shooters. But none of them, not a single one, manages to blend the sheer overall offensive efficiency that McDermott brings to the game; none of them maintains utterly deadly 3-point shooting in their reportoire as an afterthought. But that’s exactly what McDermott did in 2011–12, when he was one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. McDermott attempted 400 2-point field goals and made 63.2 percent of them. He attempted 111 3-pointers and cashed 48.6 percent. His true shooting percentage (67.8) and effective field goal percentage (65.4) were third- and sixth-best in the country, respectively.

[+] EnlargeCreighton's Doug McDermott
Jeff Curry/US PRESSWIREThe versatile game of Doug McDermott includes 48.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.
So, why put him atop this list, when others have made more 3s, who serve as lethal catch-and-shoot specialists for their teams? Because you can’t guard McDermott the way you can guard most of the country’s best shooters. At 6-foot–7, he’s too tall, his post game too sharp, to be put in any particular box. He’ll work you to death with pivots and drop-steps on the low block, just before stepping outside, or catching in transition, and hitting one out of every two 3s he takes.

I mean, seriously: How on Earth do you stop that?

2. Jordan Hulls, Indiana: Hulls may have flaws in his game -- he’s undersized (and definitely shorter than his gentleman’s listing of 6-foot) and an occasional defensive liability at the point of attack -- but he has plenty of strengths, too. He can handle, he can dish, he’s whip-smart and, oh by the way, the boy can really shoot. In 2011-12, he went 72-of-146 from beyond the arc, good for 49.3 percent, the second highest rate in the country. (He also shot 89.9 percent from the free throw line.) And while you’d expect someone with Hulls’ size to struggle to get his shot off, he really doesn’t -- he can get looks from off-ball screens and high picks, he can step under a defender and bury the 20-footer, and he can catch and release as quickly as any player in the country. And if you leave him open? Well, just start running the other way.

3. Brady Heslip, Baylor: In 2011-12, Heslip shot the ball inside the arc exactly 57 times. But don’t worry, he got still got his looks -- fully 220 of them from outside the arc. He made 100 of them, or 45.5 percent. Considering the volume involved, that is very efficient work, and a big part of the reason why Heslip ended the season with an eye-popping 138.6 offensive rating, best in the country among players with similar usage rates. If I was Baylor, I would focus on getting Heslip as many looks as possible this season.

4. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Canaan is a lot like McDermott, and a couple of other names on this list, in that he is so much more than a pure shooter … who also happens to be a pure shooter. Canaan is also his team’s primary ballhandler; he posted a 24.1 percent assist rate last season, easily the highest among any frequent Racers' contributor. He also drew 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes, shot 83.7 percent from the stripe and 48.1 percent from the arc. And, oh yeah, he made 45.6 percent of his 215 3-point field goal attempts last season. Defenses, Ohio Valley and otherwise, can’t contain Canaan, because he can get his own shot, or get into the lane, or hit a 25-footer in your face.

5. Rotnei Clarke, Butler: Clarke sat out last season after transferring to Butler, where he will take on a new role that may require him to do much more distributing and far less spot-up shooting. He also suffered a foot injury, though he appears to be recovered fully. In any case, the dude can stroke it: Clarke has shot 39.3 percent, 42.7 percent and 43.8 percent in his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, respectively, and has 274 career 3s to his name. It will be interesting to see what his new team does for his production/efficiency (his Arkansas teams were never particularly good, so it could just as easily enhance both, too), but there’s no question Clarke is a major threat beyond the arc.

6. Langston Galloway, Saint Joseph’s: I’m guessing most casual hoops fans will not be familiar with Langston Galloway, but it’s time to correct that. In 2011–12, Galloway was one of the best 10 3-point shooters in the country, making 46.6 percent of his 193 attempts. Almost all of those shots came via the spot-up, where Galloway is just lethal. According to Synergy Sports, Galloway scored 1.38 points per spot-up jumper, and 1.49 points for every spot-up shot that came from beyond the arc. It is a bad idea to let him get loose, but with so many other returning weapons making up Phil Martelli’s highly regarded A-10 contender, keeping Galloway in check is easier said than done.

7. Chase Tapley, San Diego State: Tapley’s presence is a through line marking the recent ascendance of Aztecs hoops, beginning with his supporting role* on the Kawhi Leonard-led 2011 breakout squad. He stepped into a larger role last season, and responded by making 43.3 percent of his 3s, an improvement from the year prior despite an 70-attempt increase in volume (and a decrease in 2-point field goal accuracy). Tapley will have to be just as deadly from outside this season if San Diego State plans to live up to its preseason billing. I’m not worried. (*The original version of this post said Tapley came off the bench in 2011; in fact, he started the majority of games that season. My apologies for the error.)

[+] EnlargeChristian Watford
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireChristian Watford drained arguably the most memorable 3 of the college basketball season.
8. Christian Watford, Indiana: There is a reason the Hoosiers offense was the fourth-best in the country last season. Not only did it boast monster freshman center Cody Zeller, and not only did it get efficient shooting from the aforementioned Jordan Hulls, and balance from Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey (to say nothing of Matt Roth’s 54.5 percent 3-point shooting), but its second-most-used player is a 6-foot-9 forward who also happens to be lights-out from the perimeter. Watford made 43.7 percent of his 3s last season, and he shot plenty of them -- 119, to be exact (one of which you may have seen a few times before). Before Zeller’s arrival, Watford was often forced to play in the post, a position for which he is particularly ill-suited. Now that Zeller commands the low block, Watford is free to set up outside, peer over the defense, and fire away. It’s his niche.

9. Kenny Boynton, Florida: Among the handful of players who shot as many 3s in 2011-12 as Boynton, only Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins was a fellow member of a power-six conference. Boynton fired from downtown 270 times last season. If we were talking about his freshman or sophomore seasons -- in which Boynton was similarly free of conscience but far inferior as a shooter -- that would not necessarily be a good things. But because Boynton hit 40.7 percent of his 3s, he was a major reason why Florida’s offense was so difficult to stop. He can handle it and get into the lane, too, but his 3-point attempts dwarf his 2s, and as long as he’s making them at a 40-percent or higher rate, he’s very dangerous to opposing defenses.

10. Scott Wood, NC State: We talk a lot about NC State’s pieces, and these discussions typically center on point guard Lorenzo Brown, or forward C.J. Leslie, or touted freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis. Far more overlooked is the offense Wood provides, and the way he provides it. At 6-foot–6, Scott is similar to Watford in his ability to step out and see over defenses, if slightly easier to run off the ball. (Despite his size, Wood attempted 232 3s and just 78 2s in 2012.) Whatever his breakdowns, Wood’s 40.9 percent shooting on a large number of attempts is crucial again this season, because NC State’s still-improving offense will desperately need the outside balance.

Honorable mentions: Travis Bader, Oakland; Scott Bamforth, Weber State, C.J. Wilcox, Washington, Allen Crabbe, Cal; Ethan Wragge, Creighton

Freshmen to watch (thanks to Dave Telep for the suggestions): Phil Forte, Oklahoma State; Isaiah Zierden, Creighton; Omar Calhoun, UConn; Katin Reinhardt, UNLV; Melvin Johnson, VCU; Kellen Dunham, Butler; Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke, Michael Frazier, Florida

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