for this game

Florida-Michigan St. Preview

Nov 26, 2009 - 8:29 PM By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN STATS Senior Writer

Florida (4-0) at Michigan State (4-0), 8:00 p.m. EDT

Michigan State and Florida met 10 seasons ago for the national title. While the Spartans may seem like the better bet to get back this season, the Gators feel they have significantly improved.

They'll meet Friday night in the semifinals of the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, N.J., with both trying to improve to 5-0.

The second-ranked Spartans are off to their best start since going 12-0 in 2000-01 - the season after they beat Florida 89-76 for their last national title. Michigan State has won two of three matchups since, although the teams haven't met since the Spartans' 68-46 second-round NCAA tournament victory in 2003.

While Michigan State is trying to return to the Final Four after losing to North Carolina in last season's title game, Florida is seeking its fourth 5-0 start in five years. The Gators, however, have missed the last two NCAA tournaments after winning back-to-back titles.

Florida and No. 5 Kentucky are the only remaining unbeaten SEC teams, and the Gators are pointing at this matchup to see where they stand after winning by an average of 21.5 points in their first four.

"How we handle adversity, how we handle Michigan State, how we handle some of the things that are getting ready to come our way, we'll wait and see," coach Billy Donovan said.

Donovan's squad will get a chance to face a Michigan State team that is limiting opponents to 36.0 percent shooting. The Spartans use a rotation of mostly eight players with six at least 6-foot-3, and all seem to have bought into coach Tom Izzo's defensive philosophy.

"When you're in a huddle with 15 minutes left to go and people are talking about 'Let's finish the game tonight, let's make sure we don't let up defensively, let's not ruin our field goal percentage, let's try to keep building on this,'" Izzo said. "That means they heard, and I think that makes a coach feel better than anything there is."

While Izzo can count on Big Ten preseason player of the year Kalin Lucas and other veterans such as Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen, the Gators are leaning heavily on two newcomers.

Freshman Kenny Boynton is their leading scorer at 17.5 points per game while starting center Vernon Macklin is a Georgetown transfer. They'll be playing away from home for the first time after a 68-52 victory Tuesday over Florida State.

"I don't know how it's going to turn out," Donovan said. "I just feel up to this point in time these kids are different kids than they were a year ago. They've matured, there's a different attitude, there's a different air, there's a difference with them right now."

Michigan State also played its first four at home, winning 90-60 over Valparaiso on Sunday. Allen scored 22 and reserve Delvon Roe had 10 points and 17 rebounds.

"I was really pleased with our team's play today," Izzo said. "The unselfishness, the 13 assists on 15 baskets the first half was phenomenal."

The winner will face Massachusetts or Rutgers in Saturday's championship.