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January 8, 2014
Hoops preview: Florida
South Carolina (7-6) at Florida (11-2)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Stephen C. O'Connell Center (11,548)
TV: CSS/ESPN3 Series Florida leads 40-22
Last meeting: Florida defeated South Carolina 75-36 on Jan. 20, 2013, in Gainesville.
For Frank Martin, basketball is a game of fences.
There's no sitting in the middle, and depending on what side of the fence you choose determines whether you're on Martin's good or bad side.
"What I keep talking to our team about is we have to figure out as individuals what side of the fence we're on," Martin said. "Are we going to be on the side of the fence of guys who are excited, enthusiastic, that are trying to learn, trying to do right or are we going to be on the other side of the fence where we think practice is a drag.
"That's what we're dealing with with our team right now. We're trying to figure out how many guys are on each side of the line. That's why leadership is so important and unfortunately we don't have it - once again not because guys are being defiant just because guys are trying to figure it out. It's hard to lead when you're trying to figure stuff out. What you can't have are guys that keep hopping back and forth. Once you decide to get on this side of the fence, just stay. Don't go back and forth.
"We're starting to develop a core of guys that are getting it every day. We still have some guys who have to figure it out.
The time to figure that out against softer opponents are at an end beginning tonight in Gainesville, where Florida carries a No. 10 national ranking and 11-2 record.
For Martin, this year's Gators represent more of the same.
"Typical Billy (Donovan) team," Martin said. "They've got a senior at point guard. They've got a senior at power forward. They've got a senior at center. They've got a redshirt junior at small forward. They've got Michael Frazier who has played big-time minutes for them at the other guard.
"And all those kids are part of a program that has been to Elite Eights. They understand what it takes. You can argue that they've been the most consistent program in this league since the late 90s.
"There's a culture in place there, and the great thing is that he's got seniors leading the charge, and that makes them good. And the guys that are not seniors are McDonald All-Americans. The process of a great program is already in place. That's the challenge we've got right now, but I'm excited for it."
Martin's players are excited for it as well.
"We know how good Florida's always been for like the past 10 or 12 years," senior point guard Brent Williams said. "They've always been consistently good and we know what we're facing going into a tough environment. Billy Donovan has always kept a great team full of guys, so we know what we have to prepare for.
"Me and Ty (Johnson), we remember what that game was like (last year in Gainesville, a 75-36 loss). Frank said that's why he put together the schedule with difficult games at Baylor and at Oklahoma State to make similar atmospheres going into Florida so situations like that don't happen.
"We know what to expect from the get-go instead of going into the game not lost, but off balance and not being psyched out by the fans and the crowd and the way the game plays out. We should be definitely more prepared this time."
Three keys to victory
STAY THE COURSE: Brent Williams has been on fire of late, averaging 17.4 points per game over the past five games, hitting 50.9 percent from the field and 53.6 percent from 3-point range. He's started the last four over junior transfer Ty Johnson, and the move has worked out splendidly. No reason to change what's not broken here.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON: Tonight, we'll see whether the road tests at Oklahoma State, Baylor and Clemson have paid dividends yet when the Gamecocks face an atmosphere as big as it gets in the Southeastern Conference. Florida is too talented not to string together long runs in both halves, and how USC handles those runs when it looks like nothing can go right will show either how far they've come or how far they have to go.
OFFENSE ON NOTICE: Along with Williams' explosion of late has been the surging play of freshman Duane Notice, who has posted double-figures in four of the last five games, adding 11.4 points and 4.4 assists per game during that span. While Martin lamented Notice's poor play in practice on Tuesday, he did say how impressed he's been with him thus far and how much this team needs him with SEC play beginning.
Probable starting lineups:
G - #0 Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5, 206 Fr. (10.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
G - #5 Scotty Wilbekin, 6-2, 176 Sr. (11.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina will face LSU on Saturday at the Colonial Life Arena at 1:30 p.m.
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