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March 19, 2014

Orlando Notebook: Hill questionable

ORLANDO, Fla. - No. 1 Florida (32-2) and Albany (19-14) tip-off tomorrow (4:10 p.m., TBS) at the Amway Center in a match-up pitting David versus Goliath, but the NCAA Tournament's top-overall seed isn't overlooking the tiny mid-major.

"They definitely can beat us," said senior forward Casey Prather, UF's leading scorer at 14.1 points per game. "Anybody can beat anybody in the tournament. We got to be ready from the get-go."

Added SEC sixth-man of the year Dorian Finney-Smith: "I've never heard of Albany but they're here, they made it to the tournament, so they've got to be good."

The Great Danes (19-14) topped Mount St. Mary's 71-64 Tuesday in the first of four play-in games in Dayton, Ohio, and their reward is a date with the nation's hottest team -- and some crazy history.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, No. 1 seeds are undefeated (116-0) against 16-seeds, with an average margin of victory 24.8 points per game over the last 25 years.

The Great Danes -- 21-point underdogs -- struggle with turnovers, don't shoot many 3-pointers and prefer to play at a slow pace, so Florida is poised to exploit Albany with their suffocating press and transition offense.

Still, Billy Donovan dismissed the notion the game is a major-mismatch.

"They've earned the right to play the game. They've had a heck of a year," Donovan said. "They've gone into their conference tournament and they had to win a championship game on the road. I think that says a lot about their kids' character. It says a lot about the job that Will [Brown] has done. For our basketball team, as I said earlier, it has nothing to do for us about seeding or anything else. The only thing that matters is how well do we prepare to get ready to play tomorrow afternoon and how well do we play in between the lines. Our team, our coaching staff has great respect for Albany and what they've done and how they've performed certainly coming down the stretch and really the whole year."

Orlando is a homecoming of sorts for several Gators, including fan-favorite walk-on Jake "The Snake" Kurtz.

Kurtz, who starred at Hagerty under Josh Kone, said the return to Orlando is "really cool."

"I grew up a Magic fan, 15-minutes away from here. This is a thrill," he said. Kurtz's first trip to the NCAA Tournament wasn't so pleasant though.

In 2011, when the Gators faced Virginia (and later Norfolk State) in Omaha, Nebraska, Kurtz didn't have a seat on the bench.

Tomorrow he may have a chance to play.

"The seats get cut down in the NCAA Tournament," Kurtz explained, acknowledging the situation was "a bummer." "I wasn't able to sit [with the team]. That was the first experience I had with the tournament. … I'd love to play. Everyone wants to play, but I wouldn't say it's a bad thing if we win, and I don't. I'm ok as long as we keep moving on."

As first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, freshman point guard Kasey Hill is questionable for tomorrow's game with turf toe. Hill, who is averaging 5.9 points and 3.1 assists as Scottie Wilbekin's backup, will be reevaluated Thursday morning during Florida's team shoot-around. The Umatilla native participated in the open practice and displayed no visible limp during the workout.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino will square-off against his latest protégée Manhattan coach Steve Masiello on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., TBS), but paired at the same tournament site as former star pupil Billy Donovan, the Cardinals' Hall of Fame coach wasted little time singing (effusively) the praises of Florida's coach.

"Billy the Kid to me is one of the most special people in my life. I've said this, [former Cardinals point guard] Peyton Siva and Donovan were two of the most special people I've ever coached. I could never find a character flaw in them," Pitino said.

The eulogizing continued.

"There's no finer person I've met in my life," he said. "He's just the most special human being I've ever encountered in my lifetime. He never changed. Success hasn't changed him. Adversity hasn't changed him."

Donovan, who's built his own expansive coach tree including Shaka Smart (VCU), Anthony Grant (Alabama), Donnie Jones (UCF) and Larry Shyatt (Wyoming), boasted on Pitino's ability to develop assistants into quality head coaches.

"When I was 24 years old, I was forced to scout. I was forced to coach. I was forced to teach. I was forced to break down film," Donovan explained. "I was forced to make decisions. There was not any area of coaching when I was with Coach Pitino that I was not exposed to, and it was challenging, it was demanding, and it made me better. I really felt even though I was 28-years-old and took over at Marshall, I didn't feel like I was unprepared, or geez, this is overwhelming. Not at all, and I think that had everything to do with Coach Pitino in terms of preparing us, and I hope in some way what he did for me I can do the same thing for my guys that are assistant coaches and move on to head coaching positions, is to get them prepared as much as I can."

"It has to come true at some point in time." -- Albany center John Puk on the chances a No. 16 seed defeats a No. 1 seed.

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