Even as a seven seed, Florida has all the tools to win the NCAA tournament. Some will laugh and many will scoff, but don’t let the three-game sweep by Kentucky fool you. Florida fights like a champ, and now, in the NCAA tournament, they’re in a position to put the struggles of the season behind them.
Their strengths are more than enough to make up for the weaknesses, and Billy Donovan is a talented-enough coach to bring those strengths out at the right time. Throughout this roster, Donovan has players that are experienced in playing lights-out offense in close games. The defense and depth took some hits losing three starting seniors from last season, but that’s only really hurt their adjustment period; it’s not an indictment on what they can do now.
The biggest factor moving forward in the tourney remains whether this Florida team stays as hot as they were in that SEC semi-final. If they can get the rest of the players on the same page, they can be the most dangerous team in the tournament.
Yes, the Gators chose one of the worst times to slump.
The three-game skid right before the SEC tournament is an ugly stain on their season, but it’s what they did after that speaks volumes about their game. They went into that tournament without any momentum and managed to pull out an impressive victory over a strong defensive NCAA tournament team in Alabama.
Then, they followed up that performance with a three-point loss to one of the country’s best teams in Kentucky; they'd previously blew out this Gators’ squad twice in the season, one of which only happened a week prior.
How far will the Gators go in the tournament?
That fight we saw was a byproduct of their versatility on offense. They have plenty of ways to score from one to five in their starting lineup. Even when two to three guys are slumping, the others are more than capable at keeping the Gators competitive in the game.
Now, just imagine if all five of these guys can either get hot or, at the very least, reduce poor shot selection, Florida becomes a dangerous, hard-to-cover team from the field.
Four guys in the starting lineup — Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Erik Murphy, and Bradley Beal — are all dependable scorers from the perimeter, shooting a combined .393 for the season, and, overall, are great shooters from the field. When Patric Young is playing smart, the Gators also have an outlet for getting those easy buckets inside, facilitating more open looks for the shooters as well.
With Scottie Wilbekin and a healthy Mike Rosario, the Gators have dependable offense off the bench, which last year’s Kentucky team can attest is important down the stretch of this long, condensed tourney.
The biggest issue plaguing the Gators is the defense. It’s not their efficiency that’s the concern, just the consistency.
Overall, this team tends to struggle against the more athletic teams. Anyone watching the season knows that aggressive offenses were able to get them in bad spots, forcing fouls, and creating offense from the charity stripe.
Two of the Gators’ toughest games, Ohio State and Syracuse, pretty much came down to free throws in close games. The Gators were called for 39 fouls and gave up 55 free throw attempts combined in those two games. This is still an issue that pops up every now and again but has looked significantly better since those earlier games.
However, it becomes a non-factor if the tournament refs, more often than not, swallow their whistles and let them play. Suddenly, Florida, as the jump shooting team, looks even more dangerous.
It’s very hard to stop a tough, physical defense taking you out of your game, something Young and Murphy can do, especially when they’re converting on the other side without needing to initiate any contact for their own offense.
It won’t be easy for this seven seed to rise to the top, but that does not change how dangerous the Florida Gators can be. The offense runs deep into the bench and just needs an early opportunity to get the wheels rolling. If they just get a few of their shooters going from the start and their physical defense is allowed to prevail, they’ll be a hard team to stop come tournament time.