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National Columnist

Florida has no idea how good Mitch McGary has become

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If the Florida Gators don't know, they better ask somebody about Mitch McGary.

And I'm being serious when I say that, as of early Saturday afternoon -- 24 hours before the South Region championship game Sunday against Michigan -- Florida's top two post defenders didn't seem to appreciate the predicament posed by Mitch McGary.

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Know who he is? Sure. Patric Young and Will Yeguete know who he is. McGary, one of the top-rated players in the high school class of 2012, nearly became their teammate -- choosing Michigan over Florida and Duke. So they know who he is.

Know how good he is? How good he has become? Nope. No idea. As of early Saturday afternoon they didn't know, and this I know because I asked them both. Young, the Gators' starting center and an SEC All-Defensive player, was downright dismissive of McGary.

"He's not a dominant post scorer," Young said. "A lot of his points are because he's a recipient of [All-American point guard] Trey Burke."

McGary has grabbed nine, 14 and 14 rebounds in three NCAA Tournament games. Is that a function of Trey Burke, too?

"You can't fake 13, 14 rebounds per game," Young said.

How magnanimous.

Up to a point, of course, Young is right. Burke is the best player at Michigan, and he does create scoring opportunities for teammates. But finishing just isn't that easy. McGary came off the bench for most of this season because junior Jordan Morgan had started 68 of 69 games the past two seasons. Morgan started 27 of the first 30 games this season as well, and with all that experience -- and all that help from Burke -- Morgan averages five points per game.

So it's not easy. And for a while, it wasn't easy for McGary, either. On the season he has a modest scoring average of 7.3 ppg, but this Mitch McGary isn't that one. That one, the Mitch McGary of the first 31 games, averaged 6.0 ppg.

But this Mitch McGary? The monster -- nicknamed "Monster" by his teammates -- who has averaged 15.6 ppg in the last five games? This one's not the otherwise unremarkable recipient of Trey Burke. This Mitch McGary is an offensive beast, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound post player with a motor that rivals the fabled engines of Tyler Hansbrough and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This Mitch McGary has started all three NCAA tournament games for Michigan, and is averaging 19.7 ppg.

I told Young those numbers, and asked what they meant to him.

"Does it intimidate me?" Young asked me.

No, no, no. But what does it mean to you, that McGary is putting up his best numbers against players as good as Jeff Withey of Kansas?

"It means I better do a better job than Jeff Withey did," Young said, "or we're going to be in a lot of trouble."

Don't think Young's remarks will escape the rabbit ears of McGary, who heard something much more benign from Withey before their meeting in the Sweet 16, when Withey wondered aloud if McGary was really 6-10.

"I'm every bit of 6-10 or 6-10 1/2," McGary said Saturday. "I don't know how much shorter I can get."

As for what McGary did to Withey? Well, I'll get to that in a minute. First, though, come with me inside the Florida locker room on Saturday, when the Gators' reserves were available to the media. I walked in there, the only reporter in the room, and made a beeline for the 6-7, 240-pound Yeguete -- arguably the Gators' best post defender albeit in a 20.8-mpg role off the bench.

"The topic is Mitch McGary," I told Yeguete. "So get your head right."

He smiled. "Ready," he said.

We talked about other, similarly big men Yeguete has defended this season. He mentioned Missouri's Alex Oriakhi and LSU's Johnny O'Bryant III, both of whom approach McGary in height and weight -- and neither of whom, it should be noted, had good games against the Gators. Oriakhi averaged 11.2 ppg and 8.4 rpg this season while O'Bryant averaged 13.6 ppg and 8.7 rpg, but in the two games against Florida in which Yeguete and Young were both healthy and available, Oriakhi and O'Bryant averaged 3.0 ppg and 3.5 rpg.

So that's good for Florida.

But McGary is better than those guys. I asked Yeguete if he knew how much McGary has improved in recent weeks.

"Not really," he said, polite as he can be.

Do you know how good Kansas' Jeff Withey is on defense?

"I do," Yeguete said.

Do you know what McGary did last night to Jeff Withey?

"No."

Do you want to know?

"It doesn't matter."

Seriously, Will. You don't know want to know what the guy you're going to be defending on Sunday did last night to the best shot-blocker in the country?

"I can guess," Yeguete said, "by the way you're talking about him, that he must have had a pretty good game."

Yeah. Pretty good. Want to know how good?

"It doesn't matter," he said. "We're going to watch the film later."

He's right. The Gators played late Friday night and woke up Saturday to a small amount of film work. A closer look at Michigan would come later Saturday. Yeguete would find out eventually.

He never asked, so I never told him that McGary demolished Withey for 25 points and 14 rebounds on Friday night. Instead I stood and shook his hand. Like Patric Young, Yeguete seems like a very nice young man -- so maybe in hindsight I should have offered him more than a "thank you" as I was leaving the Florida locker room.

Two other words come to mind, seeing how the topic was Mitch McGary:

Good luck.

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