"Florida is very good. Those guys play with youthful exuberance. They are extremely well coached," Gillispie said. "Coach (Billy) Donovan is one of the few coaches to win two (titles). They are prepared to play every single game and it's fun to watch those guys."
The game has some interesting storylines. Donovan was UK's first choice to replace Tubby Smith when Smith resigned last spring, but he eventually accepted a job with the Orlando Magic before changing his mind. Gillispie was offered the UK job after Donovan turned it down.
Kentucky (7-8, 1-1 SEC) and Florida waged recruiting battles for Patrick Patterson and Jai Lucas. Kentucky got Patterson, who leads the team in scoring (16.7 points per game), rebounding (8.0) and blocked shots (20), while the Gators got Lucas, who averages 9.8 points and 2.2 assists per game.
"Patterson has had a terrific year. I have always admired his toughness and the way he plays," Donovan said. "Sometimes in summer play, bigger guys do not get the ball a lot to show what they can do offensively. Now he has the opportunity to score and make low post moves. He certainly has a very bright future ahead of him and as a freshman, he probably already is one of the best low-post players in our league."
Scouting in middle school
Gillispie started watching Lucas when he was in middle school and recruited him at Texas A&M before he came to Kentucky to replace Smith.
"It's fun to watch a player like him evolve into a force so early in his college career. He has worked his way into it. Everything he has got is due to hard work, and what a great teaching tool that is for any young player," Gillispie said.
Even though Lucas is only 5-10, Gillispie says he's a capable scorer.
"He knows how to draw contact. He knows how to get into the lane and how to position his body. He knows where his spots to be most successful scoring are. He doesn't put himself into too many binds where he can't score," Gillispie said.
The Gators' best freshman, though, has been guard Nick Calathes. He leads the team in scoring (15.3), assists (105) and steals (27).
"He is a tremendous player. Everybody knows about some of the great freshmen, but he has had a great impact on Florida. He has good feel, great size and tremendous vision. He is a good shooter and has great tempo to his game. He plays like a seasoned veteran," Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said.
Donovan thinks UK senior guards Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford are both vastly underrated and rank among the best players in the SEC despite UK's 7-8 record.
"They are obviously very talented. There's no question Crawford and Bradley are as good as any two players in our league," Donovan said. "Crawford came out of high school with a huge reputation, and the last two years has had good numbers and has been a consistent scorer. The same thing can be said for Bradley.
"Both are veterans who have been through the rigors of a college basketball season. I don't care who is playing against Kentucky, those two guys are going to be as good, if not better, than anybody they will play against."
Donovan says they also give Kentucky a solid defensive presence that could create a problem for his young team.
"They have the ability to pressure you; they have good size on the perimeter and they have a shot blocker and physical player up front in Patrick. There is no question for us; it will be one of the better defenses we have seen," Donovan said.