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Wednesday November 20, 2013Getting the Point: Gators Thinking Big in Replacing Hill

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The statement was made strictly to engender a response.

You can’t play point guard.

Dorian Finney-Smith had a look on his face like he was offended ... and then he just laughed.

“Yeah, I can,” the kid they call “Doe-Doe” shot back.

And yeah, he will.

Finney-Smith, a 6-foot-8 power forward by trade, will get a chance to be a 6-foot-8 point forward Thursday night when the 16th-ranked Gators (3-1) face Middle Tennessee State (4-0) at the O’Connell Center. He won’t be alone in this new endeavor.

With freshman Kasey Hill suffering an high ankle sprain in Monday’s win over Southern and senior Scottie Wilbekin still suspended, pencil in 6-6 Casey Prather for some point, too. Ditto Michael Frazier and DeVon Walker, both of whom took on playmaker duties after Hill went down against the Jaguars. Some Eli Carter, if need be.

“I might get out there a little, too,” 6-9 center Patric Young laughed.

Let’s not get carried away. Although it was quite a sight seeing the big lineup the Gators put on the floor in practice Wednesday, what with Finney-Smith and Prather taking turns bringing the ball up.

The execution was actually very good at times. Very, very good.

It’s unconventional, no question, but UF coach Billy Donovan needs to make due with the players available. None of them are point guards.

Think back to when Chandler Parsons handled the ball for the Gators during his 2010-11 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year season. Finney-Smith is neither the handler nor passer Parsons was, but he’s certainly capable.

“I feel very comfortable [with him] back there,” Donovan said Wednesday. “Most teams are going to play with pretty much two primary backcourt players. So if Doe-Doe’s playing the power forward spot, and he’s bringing the ball up the floor and he’s initiating the offense, a lot of times it’s going to be against a power forward. I think we can, based on lineups, move and shuffle people around in different positions based on mismatches in certain situations.”

Of course, the mismatch can rub both ways, should MTSU be able to use the Gators’ size against them. That’s a chance Donovan is willing to take.

Then again, he has no choice.

“I’m pretty confident in my ball-handling," Finney-Smith said. "So if Coach needs me to play point, I’ll do it.”

Bet he likes it, too.

No. 16 Florida vs Middle Tennessee State  

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: Florida 3-1; MTSU 4-0
TV: Sun Sports (w/Larry Vettel and Bill Koss)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 108/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Middle Tennessee State notes


History: The Gators and Blue Raiders are playing for just the second time, with the previous meeting last season, a 66-45 win for UF on Nov. 18, 2012 at Tampa. F Will Yeguete had a double-double (11 points, 13 rebounds) that day, with G Kenny Boyton chucking in 20 points. Florida is 7-4 all-time against teams from the Sun Belt Conference, including 7-1 under Coach Billy Donovan.  

Pre-game storyline: It’s the same storyline, but the characters keeping changing. The Gators have been dealing with roster voids and uncertainty all season. The loss of freshman PG Kasey Hill (ankle) is the latest development, coming just one game after UF welcomed back F Dorian Finney-Smith from the suspended list. The latest juggling job Donovan and his staff are doing involves finding the right combination of players to fill in for Hill, who could miss up to a month. Some of the lineups against MTSU will be the tallest the Gators will roll out this season.

The players: Senior Casey Prather (19.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) doesn’t have the shooter’s touch of a true small forward, but he has found his game, rhythm and timing off the bounce. And he’s really seeing the floor. That's why he’ll get a bunch of possessions at point guard in this game. ... Michael Frazier has been the lone Gator who’s a threat from the outside. The sophomore shooting guard has 45.8 percent of 3-pointer attempts (11 for 24), while the rest of the team is 8-for-37 (21.6 percent). ... Senior F Will Yeguete ballparks himself at about 80 percent coming off offseason knee surgery. That probably has a lot to do with a guy who combined to shoot 55.3 percen the last two seasons making just 41.2 thus far. That and some poor decisions with the ball. Yeguete actually has just two more field goals (7) than turnovers (5). Odds say he'll start coming around.

The opponent: The Blue Raiders return two starters from a team that went 28-8 last season (beating eventual SEC Tournament champ Ole Miss along the way) and lost to St. Mary’s in the play-in round of the NCAA Tournament. Kermit Davis is an outstanding mid-major coach who will get a lot out of an undersized lineup. MTSU is led by 6-8, 236-pound F Shawn Jones (16.3 ppg, 9 rpg), one of four senior starters, and PG Tweety Knight (10 ppg, 5.8 apg). The Blue Raiders, who gave the Gators fits with their 1-3-1 extended zone last season, have already beaten three of UF’s victims, defeating Southern by 3, North Florida by 7 and Arkansas-Little Rock by 17.

Key numbers:

* 4.0 - Rebounds per game by walk-on forward Jake Kurtz, who is shooting 60 percent from the floor and has turned the ball over just once this season.

* 7 - Points scored off 18 turnovers by UF opponents the previous two games.

* 44 - Points scored off 30 turnovers by the Gators the previous two games.

* 44.4 - Patric Young’s free-throw percentage.

* 44.4 - Young’s field-goal percentage.

Watch for it: Sophomore guard DeVon Walker really struggled offensively the first three games, then went 4-for-9 from the floor and hit the first 3-pointer of the season to finish with a career-high 10. Donovan challenged him to be more aggressive offensively and he needs to do so. Some added confidence, perhaps, from the last game should help.


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