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November 24, 2006

Game of the Week: Kansas vs. Florida

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There was no discussion when it came to picking Rivals.com's first Game of the Week for the 2006-07 season.

Top-ranked Florida (5-0) and No. 10 Kansas (3-1) ended the selection process more than two months ago when they scheduled a matchup in Las Vegas for Saturday night at 10:30 p.m.

The Jayhawks' stunning loss to Oral Roberts last week which dropped them seven spots in the polls took off some of the luster, but it remains one of the most heavily anticipated games of the season for a multitude of reasons.

The Gators return all five starters from a team that captured the school's first national title in April. The Jayhawks bring back almost all the key players from a squad that won 15 of 16 games entering the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

With the exception of North Carolina, these are probably the two most talented teams in the nation. The Gators have three players that turned down the chance to be first-round NBA Draft picks to stay in school. The Jayhawks boast two possible lottery picks. The rest of their rosters include some of the best players in college basketball at their respective positions.

The neutral-court setting provides some intrigue as well, creating a rare NCAA Tournament-like atmosphere in late November.

We break down all the matchups and decide who has the edge in each head-to-head scenario:

Rivals.com Game of the Week: No. 1 Florida (5-0) vs. No. 10 Kansas (3-1)
Darrell Arthur vs. Joakim Noah
This matchup features one of the best freshmen in college basketball against one of the best players in college basketball. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Arthur is off to a great start, averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game. Noah (6-11, 230), who was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 Final Four, might have been the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft if he hadn't stayed in school for his junior year. Both players run the court extremely well for their size, but Arthur is much more offensive-minded. Noah is a dominating force on the defensive end.
Edge: Florida.
Julian Wright vs. Al Horford
Both of these ultra-talented forwards are expected to have breakthrough seasons. Big 12 coaches voted Wright (6-8, 205) the preseason co-player of the year in the conference along with his teammate, Brandon Rush. Florida coach Billy Donovan says repeatedly that Horford (6-10, 245) has the most pro potential of any player on his team. Wright is known more for his versatility and defensive prowess. Horford is more of a prototypical four-man, capable of overpowering opponents while also excelling in the high post. Look for Horford to operate more out of the low post in an effort to take advantage of his size and strength against the smaller Wright.
Edge: Florida.
Brandon Rush vs. Corey Brewer
This is the best one-on-one matchup of the game - and possibly one of the best all season. Rush (6-6, 210) and Brewer (6-9, 185) both rank among the top small forwards in the nation. Brewer might be the most versatile player in the nation as well. The lanky junior is coming off a season where he averaged 12.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals and collected co-SEC defensive player of the year honors. Rush possesses great athleticism and good accuracy from beyond the 3-point line. However, he could struggle offensively when faced with Brewer's length and quickness.
Edge: Florida.
Mario Chalmers vs. Lee Humphrey
Chalmers (6-1, 195) might be the Jayhawks' most underrated player. The sophomore is blessed with a great first step and tremendous quickness. His is also versatile enough to play both guard spots. He led the Big 12 in steals (2.7 a game) last season. His only glaring weakness is perimeter shooting, which is Humphrey's strength. A 3-point specialist, the senior shot an SEC-high 46 percent from beyond the arc last season. On the downside, Humphrey is only an average ball-handler and he struggles to create his own shot.
Edge: Kansas.
Russell Robinson vs. Taurean Green
Green is a polished player capable of big scoring nights. The 6-0, 175-pound junior also mixes in some bad decision-making at times he averaged 3.2 turnovers a game in 2005-06. Robinson's role is starting to change. This season he is more of a distributor than a scoring threat. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior is averaging more assists (6.3) than points (6.0). He also boasts a stellar 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Robinson's ability to set up the Jayhawks' other scoring weapons will be one of the game's biggest keys.
Edge: Florida.
Kansas bench vs. Florida bench
The Jayhawks boast the deeper bench, particularly with the return of center Sasha Kaun (6-11, 245) - who is recovering from an injured knee. Coach Bill Self says he expects Kaun to play about 15-20 minutes, and they desperately need his interior presence. Explosive point guard Sherron Collins (5-1, 200) gives the Jayhawks another difference-maker. The Gators count on a pair of reliable reserves, guard Walter Hodge (6-0, 170) and center Chris Richard (6-9, 255), but no one else has much experience.
Edge: Kansas.
Coaching matchup
Kansas' Bill Self and Florida's Billy Donovan - who both prefer running up tempo styles - have nearly identical winning percentages. Self's career coaching record stands at 282-130 (.684) while Donovan's is 267-118 (.695). Donovan's coaching stock was sent soaring when the Gators won their first national title last April. Donovan has convinced a team full of future first-round picks to buy into his system and an unselfish style of play. Self, despite his impressive record, has come under heavy criticism because the Jayhawks have been upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons. There is a lot more pressure on Self going into the game and this season.
Edge: Florida.

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