Friday , Nov , 10 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Top-ranked Florida begins national title defense

Gainesville, FL (Sports Network) – Fans of college basketball can’t wait to
watch the defending National Champion Florida Gators this season, and they
will get the ball rolling against Samford tonight. Samford heads into this
new campaign as the preseason favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference. The
Bulldogs return four starters from the 2005-06 squad that finished
20-11 and reached the championship game of the conference tournament.

Sure, Samford has a solid team, but the club is a monumental underdog
tonight against a Florida team that returns all five starters. The Gators
have won 15 consecutive season openers and they play an extremely soft non-
league schedule early on, so we will not see them challenged until a
November 25th game against Kansas.

Florida posted a 79-74 decision over Samford in the only other meeting between
the two teams back in 1970.

Randall Gulina, Joe Ross Merritt, Travis Peterson and Jerry Smith bring a
great deal of experience and skill to the floor for Samford. Gulina scored
12.6 ppg last season, and he will be the top offensive option this year. As
for Peterson, a 6-10 junior center, he is coming off a campaign in which he
netted 11.2 ppg. Peterson only grabbed 3.8 rpg, and that average has to be
improved. Guard Jerry Smith has some serious ability, and the guard brings
senior leadership to the floor. Samford managed to limit its opponents to 60.1
ppg last season on 44.7 percent shooting from the floor, but limiting Florida
to those figures tonight would be a borderline miracle.

Florida was not a particularly deep team last season, but depth isn’t
necessary if all five starters are tremendously talented and well conditioned.
Joakim Noah emerged as a star as the season progressed, and he could have been
a top NBA Draft pick after winning Final Four MVP honors. Noah averaged 14.2
ppg and 7.1 rpg, numbers that could be much higher if he didn’t play for such
a balanced squad. All five starters averaged double figures in 2005-06, and
more of the same is expected. Taurean Green is a tremendous point guard, and
Al Horford brings toughness to the forward position. Corey Brewer is a lock-
down defender who is on every NBA radar, and Lee Humphrey is a deadly three-
point shooter. This team won’t go undefeated, but its losses will be few and
far between.

Repeating as NCAA champs will be a tall task for the Gators, as there are a
number of strong teams throughout the nation. Still, the possibility is
certainly there considering the returning talent, and Samford will experience
the power of the Gators firsthand.