Friday , Mar , 16 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Florida begins defense of national title against Jackson State

New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) – Defense of the 2006 NCAA Tournament title
begins at the New Orleans Arena tonight as the top-seeded Florida Gators show
their teeth against the Jackson State Tigers in the first round of the 69th
annual event.

In this the 14th appearance for the Gators in the NCAA Tournament, the team is
considered the cream of the crop in the Midwest Region after winning the SEC
Tournament title for the third straight year with a 77-56 rout of Arkansas last
weekend in Atlanta. Under the direction of head coach Billy Donovan, the Gators
are making their ninth straight trip to the tourney and could reach a total of
30 wins for just the second time in school history, behind the 33 posted last
year when the squad ran the table in the event and defeated UCLA by a score of
73-57 for the crown. Back in 2000, Donovan also pushed his squad to the
championship game in Indianapolis, but Florida bowed to Michigan State in an
89-76 final.

As for the Tigers, they punched their ticket to the tournament by winning the
Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament in Birmingham, defeating
Mississippi Valley State in an 81-71 decision. Seeded 16th in this tourney,
Jackson State has been in the event twice before but failed to make it beyond
the first round. The Tigers, who are 21-13 overall but just 8-10 on the road
this season, are riding a five-game win streak into tonight’s action.

With respect to the all-time series between these two schools on the hardwood,
this is the first-ever meeting, although Florida has two wins over SWAC members
this year alone with crushing decisions against both Prairie View A&M (94-33)
and Southern University (83-27).

The winner of this meeting will play again on Sunday versus the winner of the
Purdue/Arizona contest in the second round.

Jackson State led the SWAC in scoring this season with 71.2 ppg, one of only
two teams in the league to post better than 65.1 ppg. However, while the
offense for the Tigers seemed to be working just fine, the defense ranked
second-to-last in the league with 72.4 ppg allowed, but since not a single
program in the SWAC had a positive scoring margin this season, the team still
managed to thrive. As the second-leading scorer in the nation, Trey Johnson was
thrilling to watch, as he produced better than 27 ppg. Johnson, who was named
the SWAC Player of the Year, posted a high of 49 points versus UTEP during the
Sun Bowl Tournament and finished with a total of 11 30-point scoring efforts
this season. But much more than just a scorer, Johnson was credited with better
than four and a half rebounds per game and was second on the unit with 85
assists, although he also had 126 turnovers along the way. Grant Maxey and
Julius Young contributed 8.8 and 8.5 ppg, respectively, with the former pulling
down a team-high 5.8 rpg. Despite forcing an average of nearly 18 turnovers per
game, the squad still allowed opponents to shoot better from both the field
(.444) and beyond the arc (.340) than they did over the course of 34 games.

Similar to Jackson State, the Gators were also performing at a high level when
it came to scoring (79.7 ppg) this season and just how many points the squad
was allowing (61.6 ppg). However, the difference was that Florida ranked first
in the SEC and second in the nation in scoring differential with a plus-17.8
ppg over the course of 34 contests. If that were not enough, the Gators ranked
first among 325 teams nationally in terms of field goal shooting, converting a
sizzling 52.7 percent from the floor. The unit was 10th in the country in
three-point shooting at 40.8 percent and was seventh in the nation in
rebounding margin with a plus-7.4 rpg. All of the aforementioned numbers came
from a core group of players that decided to stay in school and let it ride
another year after winning last year’s title, even though it was clear that
several of them would have been high NBA draft picks. Al Horford, one of the
top shooters in the SEC at 60.8 percent, led the team in both scoring and
rebounding with 13.2 ppg and 9.1 rpg and tied Joakim Noah (12.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg)
for the team high with 60 blocked shots. Taurean Green accounted for 13.1 ppg
and a team-best 120 assists and yet everyone on the squad had an eye for
getting his teammates involved as the Gators registered 174 more assists than
the competition this season.