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Four Things We Know About … Florida

April 2, 2014

(Note: Today is the first in a series of posts on the Final Four teams of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship™. We will begin with the Florida Gators, the No. 1 overall seed and South Region Champion)

 

Entering this weekend’s Texas-sized basketball festivities as the clear, even-money favorite to cut down the nets in Dallas (I will not call it “North Texas”, nor “Arlington”, nor the “DFW Metroplex”, for simplicity’s sake, this year’s Final Four is in Dallas), here are Four Things we know about the 1 seed from the South Region, Florida:

1.) Florida is the Most Complete Team in Dallas. Using the word “complete” is somewhat nebulous and elusive to properly define. So this is what I mean by “complete”: Florida has everything you would want in a Championship contender, which is why I had them at the top of my “Contenders” list. The Gators defend as well as anyone in the country; They are the No. 1 ranked team in adjusted defensive efficiency (AdjD) according to Ken Pomeroy, are No. 3 in Scoring Defense (57.6) and No. 24 in Field Goal Percentage Defense (allowing opponents 39.9% from the field). Florida also has an efficient, balanced offense that can provide scoring at all five positions on the floor, with four starters averaging double figures in points. They also meet every one of Peter Tiernan’s characteristics of a National Champion except for points per game (71.0 compared to 73 or above) as well as passing both of the KenPom comparative ranking (#18 Adj O, #1 AdjD) and numerical output (AdjO 116.1, AdjD 88.5) efficiency tests that each of the prior 11 National Champions passed. You’ve heard the old axiom “Guard play wins Championships”? Florida has Scottie Wilbekin, who is averaging 16.8 points/2 rebounds/3 assists/1.5 steals per game in the NCAA Tournament and only has 2 turnovers in 4 games playing 140 of a possible 160 minutes. All the while spearheading their defense and shutting down the opponent’s main distributor, counting Dayton’s Khari Price and (my main man) Scoochie Smith (5 points combined) and Pittsburgh’s James Robinson (1 point) among his NCAA victims. Florida’s rotation has all the tools, from the natural abilities (size, length, athleticism, quickness) to developed skills such as rebounding (#25 in the NCAA in Rebounding Margin at +5.1), perimeter shooting (rounding up Wilbekin’s 39.6%, three (3) Gators average 40% or more on 3PT) defenders (see above), creators (between Wilbekin and his understudy, super frosh Kasey Hill, Florida’s PGs average nearly 7 assists per game) and depth off the bench in all of those qualities (eight [8] players average 12+ minutes played per game, and they can push their rotation to 9 or 10 as needed). How about the idea that you need 2-3 future first-round draft picks or pros on your roster, as an indication of overall talent? According to DraftExpress.com, Florida only has one current player, Patric Young, projected in the 2014 NBA Draft (#39 overall), but Chris Walker is currently projected as a lottery pick (#10) in the 2015 NBA Draft, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wilbekin, Hill and Michael Frazier II make an NBA roster at some point. Finally, Florida mixes talented youth, as freshmen Hill and Walker were rated as Top 10 recruits in their 2013 class by both Rivals and Scout, with loads of experience starting four (4) seniors. So much experience in fact …

2.) Florida is the Most Experienced Team at The Final Four. It’s not just the fact they start four (4) seniors – Wilbekin, Young, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather – as much as they are the most tournament tested team in the entire field. This senior class has been to four (4) Elite Eights, has an NCAA Tournament record of 13-3, played in three (3) SEC Tournament finals (winning 1, this season) and 120 wins overall. Not to mention this isn’t Billy The Kid’s first rodeo either; Head Coach Billy Donovan is in his fourth Final Four and already has two (2) National Championships on his résumé. Aside from this being the first Final Four for all of these Florida players in particular, there is an aspect of “Been There, Done That, Bought The T-Shirt” swagger to this squad. Leading us to the third thing we know …

3.) Pressure Will Not Faze These Gators. Florida has won their last 30 (!) games. They went undefeated in the SEC regular season and won the conference tourney. They were a consensus Preseason Top 10 team, spent the entire season in the Top 20 and have been ranked No. 1 in the polls since February 24. Florida won the South Regional in methodical, punishing fashion, winning all four (4) games by double figures (12.25 average point margin) and holding each of their opponents to one of their five worst scoring outputs of the season. They know what it’s like to play with a target on their back, to be the hunted, and they also know what it’s been like to lose big games (losing in their three prior Elite Eight games) before finally getting over last Saturday against Dayton. And, did I mention the four seniors?  All that said, the one factor that might alleviate the most pressure for these Gators might just be that …

4.) Florida’s Road to The NCAA Title is Entirely Familiar. There won’t be any surprises awaiting Coach Donovan’s squad in Jerry World, as the Gators have played every other team in the Final Four. Florida beat Kentucky three times this year, and while their last match in the SEC Final was a 61-60 nail-biter, the other two games were won by double figure margins. Yes, the other two teams in Dallas – Connecticut and Wisconsin – beat Florida earlier this season, but it’s important to note a.) both games were on the road at Connecticut’s and Wisconsin’s respective home courts; b.) both losses were close affairs – Wisconsin by 6 in a low scoring win where neither team broke 60, and Connecticut won by 1 at the buzzer thanks to the Huskies’ “Mr. Clutch” Redux himself, Shabazz Napier – that were one-possession games in the final minute; c.) both losses occurred with Florida at less than full strength (Wilbekin, key reserve Dorian Finney-Smith and Chris Walker missed the Wisconsin game due to off-court issues, while Chris Walker also missed the Connecticut tilt, as did fellow frosh and backup point guard Kasey Hill due to a high ankle sprain, especially notable since Wilbekin also injured his ankle late in that loss); and d.) both losses were in 2013. Florida hasn’t lost to anyone else, and hasn’t lost since that game in Storrs on December 2. Florida is also fully healthy, their full roster available to them, on a neutral court and on the hottest of rolls in recent memory.

Bottom line, Florida is primed, Donavan knows the way to winning a title, and knowledge is power. Should Florida lose, it will be because they were outplayed, and not because they were caught unaware of their opponent.

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From → Basketball, Sports

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