If you're more than a casual follower of Florida basketball, you know that the Gators have been dealing with woes in close games for years, so much so that those issues have become the narrative of the program. Memphis is no stranger to a narrative that overshadows a program, either — and the Tigers, like the Gators, have been making headway in dispelling it.
The Gators have done well to win close games against Florida State and Kansas this season, though both of those teams whittled away at Florida leads in their losses at the O'Connell Center. The next hump for the Gators? Winning a close game away from home, which they will have an opportunity to do against Memphis in the second game of the 2013 Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Memphis, meanwhile, got a gorilla off its back by beating Oklahoma State earlier this month, securing the first win against a ranked team of Josh Pastner's tenure at the school. Sure, that game came at a neutral site, and Marcus Smart was horrible in it, and it was a rematch of a game that saw the Cowboys obliterate Memphis in Stillwater — but wins are wins for teams that need them to combat narratives.
Florida's other narrative of the 2013-14 seasons — depletion, based mostly on injuries — is fading. Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill both played after high ankle sprains against Kansas, and both played well, with Wilbekin putting together one of the best performances of his career and Hill flashing in spot duty. Both players will be available tonight at MSG, and Florida could use both to hold off the Memphis backcourt, which ranks 14th in Turnover Percentage, or the number of possessions that end in turnovers. The Tigers have four seniors in that backcourt — Chris Crawford, Michael Dixon, Joe Jackson, and Geron Johnson — and with the exception of Johnson, that backcourt has been excellent this year, with Dixon's three-point shooting and Crawford's ability to get shots inside the arc to fall the standout characteristics.
Where Memphis may struggle tonight is on the block. Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are fine underclassmen post players, but Florida has a habit of making things hell on other teams' big men inside, with Patric Young playing good defense and Dorian Finney-Smith and Will Yeguete defending the boards. Memphis can lapse into poorly defined offense when its guards are the only players making things happen — AAU-style isolations — so establishing a post game would be good for the Tigers, and denying one great for the Gators.
Shooting may also be an issue, given the brick-laying competition — Cincinnati 44, Pittsburgh 43 — that preceded Florida-Memphis. But at least one Gator has had an excellent night at MSG already this week — it just happened to be Bradley Beal, who put up 21 points, including the Washington Wizards' final five, in a win over the New York Knicks on Monday night.
As always, I'll be in the comments and on Twitter. Enjoy this game — Florida won't play another until after Christmas.