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Scouting report: 3-point shooting, guard play key for Gators

After wins over 10th-seeded Virginia and 15th-seeded Norfolk State, the seventh-seeded Florida Gators will meet Marquette in the semifinals of the West regional. With an Elite 8 berth on the line, here’s all you need to know about Gators and what they do.

PLAYER BREAKDOWN

Blue chip prospect Bradley Beal has not disappointed in his freshman season. Averaging a team-high 34.2 minutes, Beal is second on the Gators in scoring (14.6), third in assists (2.1), and first in rebounding (6.7 rebounds) and steals (1.4). He attempts the third most 3-pointers on the team but is hitting just 33 percent of those shots, and is much better when attacking the basket and getting to the line. The 6-foot-3 wing will give Marquette trouble due to his versatility and physicality inside.

Leading the charge in the stacked Gator back court is junior Kenny Boynton. The 6-foot-2 sharp shooter is sixth in the country with 107 3-point makes, and is connecting on over 41 percent of his attempts. He is just 6-of-28 from beyond the arc in his last six games, but has the capability to go off at a moment’s notice. Boynton takes care of the ball at an astounding rate and attempts a high volume of shots when he is in, so closing out will be a key factor in limiting him. He is one of the most efficient players in the country.

Bradley Beal is one of many deadly sharpshooters for Billy Donovan's Florida Gators. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

5-foot-8 point guard Erving Walker packs plenty of bunch and is a great distributor for the Gators. His 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio is top-50 in the country and is excellent in transition. His speed and shiftiness will be a difficult cover, but the Golden Eagles were superb against All-American Isaiah Canaan.

Erik Murphy has excellent size at 6-foot-10, but much of his offensive game comes from the perimeter. He averages over four 3-pointers per game and connects on over 43 percent of them. He is versatile, moves well defensively and can contest shots inside. He only plays 25 minutes a night, but will play a key role in shutting down Jae Crowder on Thursday.

Sophomore forward Patric Young has improved in his sophomore season, but he isn’t over-physical at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds. He picks up a fair amount of offensive rebounds off missed 3-pointers, but his true presence is on the defensive end. He has great athleticism and will contest shots at the basket.

Back-up point guard Scottie Wilbeken has seen an increase in minutes over the last month, and his numbers have justified it. Off the bench, Wilbeken has averaged 0.7 turnovers in 19.0 minutes per game, and has not committed more than one turnover since Dec. 12. He is ultra-efficient behind Walker, and will need to again take care of the ball against Marquette’s defense.

6-foot-9 freshman forward Cody Larson is used sparingly, as is 6-foot-6 wing Casey Prather.

Former Rutgers guard Mike Rosario sees limited minutes off the bench, but is an offensive spark when inserted to the lineup. He may see extra run against Marquette’s guard-oriented offense. It’s worth noting that Rosario scored 16 points against the Golden Eagles two seasons ago, as a freshman.

Sophomore forward Will Yeguete, the Gators’ sixth man, has missed the past seven games with a broken foot and will not be available for Thursday’s contest.

WHAT THE GATORS DO WELL

Maybe no other team in the nation has shot the 3-pointer with as much consistency and volume than the Gators. At 25.5 3-point attempts per game, Florida’s 38.3 field goal percentage is absurd. Over 38 percent of the Gators’ points come from 3-pointers, the sixth highest distribution in the country. Guards with range and big men who can extend to 22 feet make the Gators one of the deadliest teams from deep in the country.

A plethora of stingy guards help Florida average over seven steals per game, and opponents average over 15 turnovers per game. Florida’s pace is slower than average, but most of their fast break points come off the turnovers they force.

In conference play, the Gators shot over 74 percent from the free throw line, best in the SEC. While Patric Young shoots under 60 percent from the charity stripe, all seven main rotation players shoot over 71 percent from the line. The Gators’ top four scorers all shoot better than 75 percent from the line. They don’t get to the line much (19.1 attempts per game, 214th most) because of their perimeter-oriented style, but when they get there they make them.

Billy Donovan’s offense is extremely efficient, shooting a great percentage from beyond the arc and getting good looks inside. The Gators’ shoot 55 percent from the field (effective), and use their versatile and athletic forwards on pick-and-pop plays and rolls to the basket. Marquette’s defense will be important Thursday, but it’s a matter of containing the Florida offense, not stopping it.

WHERE THE GATORS STRUGGLE

Thus far, the Gators have been great from outside. But when they aren’t hitting, they struggle. In 25 wins, the Gators hit 10.3 3-pointers on 40 percent shooting. In 10 losses, Florida has made 8.3 3-pointers on 34 percent shooting. Taking 44 percent of shots from beyond the arc is risky business, and is a major barometer for the Gators’ success. Marquette’s defense has been one of the nation’s best at defending the three, and last Saturday held Murray State, the 13th best 3-point shooting team, to 4-of-21 shooting from deep.

Depthis an issue for the Gators, who only go seven players deep. Their pace is not as fast as most assume given their 76 points per game, but a game that picks up pace could work against Donovan’s group. They have the guards to keep up for a while, but Marquette proved against Murray State that it’s tough to match the Golden Eagles’ energy for 40 minutes. Florida should be shooting for a game near 68-70 possessions, while Marquette will want to push toward 73-75 trips.

Billy Donovan's Florida Gators have lived off the 3-point basket this year, but that could be risky against the Golden Eagles. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Gators are superb offensively, but their defense has struggled this year. They gave up 64.9 points per game in conference, a high number considering the slower pace they attempt to play at. Teams shoot over 42 percent against the Gators, an area Marquette can exploit on the interior and penetrating the lane. Murphy and Young have good height, but aren’t all that physical near the rim.

THREE KEYS TO THE GAME

Hold Gators below 3-point averages: It’s a given that Florida is going to shoot and make a fair amount of threes. Marquette needs to focus on keeping the Gators below their 3-point averages of 9.8 makes and 38.3 percent shooting. The Gators will go on streaks of hot 3-point shooting, but the key is to limit the number of streaks during a 40-minute span.

Attack the paint: Marquette has lived off this and, against Florida, can thrive. Young and Murphy aren’t typical post presences inside, and the Florida guards are not lock-down defenders. If Marquette can keep the pace up, open looks at the basket will be available. Once at the basket, there are few teams that finish better than the Golden Eagles.

Stay calm under pressure: The bright lights will be on, and expectations are through the roof for this Marquette team. Florida’s style means Marquette will have to answer a run at some point in the game. Just as they did late against Murray State, Jae Crowder must keep his team poised and ready to respond to inevitable adversity, some point in the game.

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