The last time Ohio State and Florida met as ranked teams, the national championship was on the line. The stakes aren't nearly that high this time, but an early-season matchup should reveal plenty about each club.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes and No. 9 Gators each face their first significant test of the new season Tuesday night when they meet in Gainesville.Ohio State (1-0) and Florida (1-0) haven't been ranked when they faced each other since the Gators won a second consecutive national title by beating the Buckeyes in 2007.Ohio State took the rematch 62-49 at home in December of that year, but neither team was in the Top 25 at the time.Now, a number of young, promising players make another March meeting a realistic possibility.The reigning Big Ten champion Buckeyes, who cruised to a 102-61 win over North Carolina A&T in their season opener Friday, may have exerted themselves more while practicing to take on the Gators."Our intensity in practice prepares us for all of the big games," said senior forward David Lauderdale, who had 12 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks against the Aggies. "The way we practice makes all of the games easier."Lauderdale, who averaged 6.5 points and 5.2 rebounds last season, will likely be joined in the front court by Jared Sullinger, Ohio State's top recruit.The forward turned in a superb collegiate debut Friday, scoring 19 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Fellow freshman forward Deshaun Thomas had 24 points and eight boards."He has been so focused on his defense in practice," Matta said of Thomas. "I always say if you focus on defense the offense will come and he found this out. That's the impact we thought he would have."Much like Ohio State, Florida is considered a favorite in its conference and a trendy pick to return to the Final Four.The Gators opened their most anticipated season in four years without much trouble Friday, beating UNC Wilmington 77-60.Coach Billy Donovan saw plenty of room for improvement, especially defensively. Florida allowed the Seahawks to shoot 47.9 percent."We've got to get more disciplined," Donovan said. "I think that we have a team that can press. We've got to get more disciplined in terms of what we're doing and I do believe we have a chance to be a good pressing team. We've just got to keep getting better at it."With a deep group of young players, Donovan may continue to rotate players often in order to press the entire game. Four freshmen -- Patric Young, Scotti Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather -- totaled 10 points, seven assists and five steals Friday."It helps a lot," sophomore guard Kenny Boynton said of the frequent substitutions. "I can't remember too many times in the game when I was tired. Coach had us rotating in and out, and they gave us good minutes off the bench."Boynton, who averaged 14.0 points while starting all but one game as a freshman, scored 10 in the season opener.