Florida and Syracuse have both cruised to perfect records against a few inferior opponents. On Monday night, the competitive portions of their respective schedules will begin in earnest.
The No. 17 Gators seek their sixth consecutive 4-0 start when they face Syracuse at an O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic in Kansas City laden with major-conference programs.
This week’s four-team tournament features four of the last six NCAA champions. Florida won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, and the Orange (3-0) took home the 2003 title. Reigning national champion Kansas - currently ranked 22nd - will face Pac-10 representative Washington in Monday’s second semifinal.
“You have to look out for every Top 25 team, but we’re used to the big leagues,” Syracuse sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn said. “It will definitely be a high-energy game. It will be a great test for us.”
Florida, in particular, has yet to face a serious test. The Gators have won their first three games by an average margin of nearly 20 points. Their closest contest was also their most recent - a 64-50 home victory over Southern Utah on Thursday.
The game stayed somewhat competitive due to a terrible shooting night for the Gators, who missed 15 of 16 3-point attempts after making 21 shots from beyond the arc in their first two games - lopsided wins over Toledo and Bradley. Florida clamped down defensively, though, forcing 21 Southern Utah turnovers and holding its third straight opponent below 60 points.
“Last year when we would have had a shooting night like that, we wouldn’t have even attempted to play defense,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I was much, much more pleased in this game with the way we won than beating Bradley or beating Toledo by 20-plus points because this forced us to grow in a different way than those other two games did.”
Sophomore Nick Calathes had the best offensive night for Florida, scoring a season-high 18 points. He’s averaging 15.7 points through the first three games - slightly better than the 15.3 mark he posted as a freshman.
Thursday’s win improved the Gators to 3-0 for the fifth straight season, and 29-2 over the last five Novembers.
Another dominant defensive effort won’t be easy against the Orange, who have shot 50 percent or better from the field in each of their three wins while averaging 82.3 points per game. Flynn leads Syracuse with a 20.7 scoring average, including 18 in Friday night’s 86-66 victory at home over Oakland.
As is the case for Florida, this contest promises a big step up in competition for the Orange, whose other wins have come against Richmond and Division II Le Moyne.
“We’re ready. We have to be ready,” said Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf, who was also recruited by Florida. “We have a big name, so do they. We have no choice but to be ready.”
These schools have split their two previous meetings. The Gators won 75-70 in the 2005 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, and Syracuse took a 1987 NCAA tournament regional semifinal matchup 87-81.
The winner of this game will face the Kansas-Washington winner in Tuesday’s final, while the losers will match up in a consolation game.