Marquette-Florida Preview

The Associated Press

Florida has staked an early claim as one of the nation's best teams with its first 5-0 start since the 2009-10 season. But after their first five wins came by an average of 23.8 points, the seventh-ranked Gators will likely learn much more about themselves during a tougher three-game stretch.

It begins Thursday night when they host Marquette in an SEC/Big East Challenge matchup and a rematch of a regional semifinal in last season's NCAA tournament, which Florida won 68-58.

After facing the Golden Eagles, Florida will play games at Florida State and at No. 9 Arizona.

"After November and December are done, we'll look at our non-conference schedule and say there isn't a style, system or situation we haven't really had a chance to get exposed to," coach Billy Donovan said. "I'd think ours has to be one of the more challenging non-conference schedules in the country."

The Gators appear to have more stability at point guard after Scottie Wilbekin registered career highs with 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds in a 79-66 home win against UCF on Friday.

Wilbekin was expected to be the team's starter entering the season but was initially suspended for an undisclosed violation. His performance against the Knights in his third game back might have been enough to vault him into the starting lineup.

Mike Rosario's spot could be in jeopardy after he struggled again. He has 13 assists and 12 turnovers while starting all five games, but he played only four minutes in the second half against UCF after two quick turnovers.

"I'm at a point with him right now where I just can't deal with the turnovers," Donovan said. "There's good and bad turnovers. There are turnovers where you're trying to make the right play, and for whatever reason you don't quite execute the pass. But then you have what I would consider a high-stepping, one knee up, look away, up in the air, that's in the third row.

"We're not going to tolerate it."

Marquette (5-1) is coming off a 79-46 win against Maryland-Baltimore County on Monday in which it trailed 31-30 with 16:52 left. The Golden Eagles went on a 37-5 run and shot 71.4 percent in the second half to coast to victory.

"(Coach Buzz Williams) just came in the locker room and said everybody's watching us and everybody's watching this game," said freshman Steve Taylor Jr., who scored a season-high nine points. "So play like us and we'll get it done."

Jamil Wilson scored a game-high 15 points and is 14 of 17 from the field over his last two contests. Marquette's formidable bench - averaging 35.0 points - came up big again, totaling 39. Davante Gardner continues to lead the team with 14.0 points per game despite not starting.

Scoring against Florida's stingy defense, which ranks among the country's best allowing 33.7 percent field-goal shooting and 48.4 points per game, could be a challenge, though Vander Blue's return should help. Williams sat Blue against UMBC after he sprained his knee last week at the Maui Invitational. Blue ranks second on the team with 11.4 points per game.

Florida leading scorer Kenny Boynton (16.2 ppg) scored a season-high 24 against UCF three days after spraining his ankle. He played with a tightly taped ankle and received a pain-killing injection before the game.

Boynton shot 2 of 10 and scored 11 points in these teams' NCAA tournament matchup as Florida held Marquette to 30.8 percent shooting. The top three scorers in that game - Florida's Bradley Beal and Marquette's Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom - are now gone.

"Two totally different teams," Donovan said. "The one thing that's going to be the same for Marquette is Buzz Williams has got a system and a style of play that he wants to play. ... For us, that's what you're getting prepared and ready for."

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