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Previewing Omaha: Afternoon games

OMAHA, Neb. -- Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for in Friday’s afternoon games in Omaha.

No. 7 Florida (23-10) vs. No. 10 Virginia (22-9), 2:10 p.m. ET

Florida’s Billy Donovan and Virginia’s Tony Bennett may respect one another -- but when they run into each other during the offseason, it’s pretty obvious the coaches don’t compare notes.

While Bennett prefers a slower, muddier game with the score in the 60s, Donovan likes his teams to push the tempo and rack up as many points as possible. It’s a scenario that makes Friday’s Gators-Cavaliers clash one of the most intriguing matchups of the day.

“Our styles,” Virginia forward Mike Scott said, “are going to clash.”

That’s not all that separates these teams.

Florida -- which won the national title in 2006 and 2007 -- is making its 11th NCAA tournament appearance in the past 13 years. Virginia is in the field for the first time since 2007 and for only the fourth time in the past 16 years.

“Their players have all been here and done this before,” Bennett said. “Hopefully, [by] the first five minutes after the media timeout, we’ll have enough experience to play well.”

Even though Florida finished in a three-way tie for second in the SEC, the Gators’ season has been a bit of a disappointment. Donovan’s squad has defeated just four teams (Mississippi Valley State, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Florida State) in this year’s NCAA tournament. It enters Friday’s contest having dropped four of its past five games.

Still, with a lineup that features standout guards such as Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker -- as well as likely future NBA forward Patric Young -- Florida has enough talent to erupt at any time. But the Gators know that won’t be easy against a Virginia squad that has held all but two opponents to fewer than 70 points.

“This year we have seen every type of defense you can,” Boynton said. “With our offense, we can adjust to any type of defense.”

Even though it has a gaudy record, it’s not hard to understand why Virginia (22-9) received a No. 10 seed. Other than a Nov. 29 win against Michigan, the Cavaliers boast just one win against a team in this year’s NCAA tournament. That came in a 61-60 victory against NC State on Jan. 28.

Bennett’s squad is hoping to reverse that trend Friday.

“[Coach Bennett] just tells us it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “We’ve been at the school five years. We’ve been waiting for this our whole career.”

Added Scott: “The celebrating is over. We’re here to work and win games.”

Players to watch:

Florida’s Brad Beal: One of the nation’s top freshmen, the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Beal averages 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds. But he’s shooting just 32.9 percent from 3-point range.

Florida’s Patric Young: He’s still raw, but the 6-9, 247-pound sophomore has made tremendous strides in his first year as a starter. Young, who said Thursday he plans to return for his junior season, averages 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Virginia’s Mike Scott: The first-team All-ACC selection is one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. The forward averages 18.1 points on 56.2 percent shooting. He makes 80.1 percent of his free throws and snares 8.4 boards per game.

No. 2 Missouri (30-4) vs. No. 15 Norfolk State (25-9), 4:40 p.m. ET

They were denied a No. 1 seed, but the Missouri Tigers may be the top team in the NCAA tournament in terms of confidence.

While schools such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke and Kansas all suffered losses last week, Frank Haith’s squad demolished its competition at the Big 12 tournament and is a popular pick to reach the Final Four.

“This is a senior-laden team,” Haith said. “We have had opportunities to lose focus throughout the year, but this team has been determined and resilient. I anticipate us having great focus Friday afternoon.”

Missouri certainly can’t afford to look past Norfolk State.

The Spartans defeated a Drexel team that many felt should’ve been in this year’s NCAA tournament. And they lost to Marquette by only two points back on Nov. 21. Norfolk State will be hard-pressed to stop Missouri’s four-guard offense, but its players didn’t sound all that intimidated by it Thursday.

“Yes, we’re going against better players from a different conference,” senior Kyle O’Quinn said. “But it’s not something we haven’t seen before. We’re comfortable going into the game.”

Missouri has won its past four contests by an average of 17.5 points. The Tigers are making 50.4 percent of their field goals, a mark that ranks third in the nation. The figure is even more impressive considering Missouri uses a four-guard offense, which means more outside shots.

Five Missouri players are scoring in double figures, led by Marcus Denmon with 17.6 points per game.

“We are hoping that our length will pose problems for them,” Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans said. “They have four great guards. We can post up a little bit, but we think that Kyle is our best chance of creating mismatches against them. Hopefully, he can kick it out to our shooters to make shots.”

Players to watch:

Phil Pressey, Missouri: The Tigers point guard is the key to Missouri’s four-guard attack. He’s one of the fastest players in the country with the ball in his hands. Although he’s a pass-first guard, Pressey can score when he needs to. The defensive standout led the Big 12 in steals.

Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri: The 6-8 senior shoots an eye-popping 69.8 percent from the field. The Tigers’ guards get most of the attention, but Ratliffe is averaging a respectable 13.9 points and 7.5 rebounds as the only big man in Missouri’s starting lineup.

Kyle O’Quinn, Norfolk State: The 6-10 senior averages 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds. He’s scored in double figures in all but one game this season. He also averages 2.7 blocks.