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November 18, 2012

Preview: MT vs Florida

Coming off their narrow victory over Savannah State, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders men's basketball team (2-0) will once again hit the road as they prepare to go up against their hardest test of the season as they take on the No. 10 ranked Florida Gators (2-0).

The Blue Raiders will be looking to for the major upset that would potentially propel them into the Top 25 rankings.

MT showed grit and toughness in their victory over a game SSU squad. The Tigers jumped out to an early lead against the favored Blue Raiders and led for all but 30 seconds of the first half. Heading into halftime, MT found themselves trailing 29-23.

The second half would be a different story for Blue Raiders as they would find their stroke and take the lead for the first time in the game after an 8-0 run early in the half. Once the Blue Raiders took the lead, they would not relinquish it, eking out a close win on the road, 58-55.

As for the Gators, they are coming off of a 74-56 drubbing over the No. 22 ranked Wisconsin Badgers. Florida played virtually flawless on both sides of the ball, dominating the Badgers in every aspect of the game. The Gator defense held Wisconsin to just 56 points on 36 percent shooting from the field.

EARLY SEASON TRENDS

Through just two games, Middle Tennessee's offense has struggled out of the gate, which has led to them shooting 46 percent from the field. However, there are some encouraging sights from the offense. To date, the Blue Raiders have shot 41 percent from behind the arc, while also improving at the charity stripe, connecting on 67 percent of their attempts - a real positive swing year over year.

Defensively, MT has been holding their opponents in check, allowing a mere 54 points a game while holding teams to just 38 percent shooting from the field. The team has also shown great ability to force turnovers that have resulted in transition buckets. Through the first two games, MT has nabbed 22 steals, which ranks them 24th in the nation.

As for the Florida offense, they are a great shooting team and are proving that once again this season. UF has connected on 58 percent of their shots from the field - ranking them 24th in the nation - while averaging 79 points per game. Like MT, the Gators love to shoot the trey, as they have attempted 36 shots from downtown through two games. Impressively, UF has converted on 42 percent of those attempts. If there is one area of weakness that MT could exploit it would be in the turnover department. Through just two games, the Gators have given up 32 turnovers.

On defense, the Gators are just as good as MT, if not better. UF has held their opponents to an average of 46 points per game, while holding the teams to a remarkable 29 percent from the field. Lastly the Gators have been dominating the boards in the early going, grabbing a total of 85 boards on the season, which ranks them 26th in the nation.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Sunday's matchup will be one to watch to see if the Blue Raiders can shock the world. Unlike the first two games, MT needs to find their stroke in the early goings to give themselves a chance.

It will be interesting to see if the Blue Raiders can find holes in Florida's stellar defensive play. If the Blue Raiders can find their hot hand early, it will improve their chance of possibly pulling out the upset. However, if MT is slow out of the gates, they may get left in the dust before this game reaches halftime.

The Blue Raiders have distributed the ball extremely well this year - a trend that has rolled over from last year. However, it may be wise to run more isolation sets to minimize the chances of turnovers. The Gators have shown they will pounce on the ball if given the chance.

Scoring wise, MT has 10 different players averaging at least 5 points per game. Their depth will certainly benefit them in this game, but they will need to find who has hot hand early and stick with them throughout the contest.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Middle Tennessee:

G Marcos Knight - Averages team high 12.5 points, six rebounds and two steals a game. Knight is coming off of a career high 21-point outing against Savannah State despite injury. Look for Knight to be matched up against Florida G Kenny Boynton at times Sunday - which will be a tough test for the senior.

Florida:

PF/C Erik Murphy - Averages a team high 19.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. Not your typical 6'10" big man as he is a great shooter and can step out to hit a three. Murphy shoots 75 percent from the field and 63 percent from behind the arc and is coming off a perfect shooting night where he hit all 10 shot attempts while also going 2-2 from the arc and charity stripe. Look for MT to throw a plethora of defenders at him as they try to ascertain what their best matchup will be, but do not expect Murphy to be shut down by any stretch.

PREDICTION: MT 55, FLORIDA 75

Going into this game and examining the stat sheet it looks as though the possibility of a Middle Tennessee upset looks very unlikely, and the game will most likely play out that way.

The Gators defense will prove to be too much for the Blue Raiders and will likely prevent MT from bucking the trend of their slow starts. MT will struggle to find their shooting stroke in the early goings, which will force them to fight back from a big deficit.

The deficit, however, will prove to be too large as Middle Tennessee struggles throughout against a more well-rounded team and potential SEC Champion. Do not be surprised to see MT make a run at things late, but it will not last and Florida should pull away in the end, handing MT their first loss on the young season.



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