Coach Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators face a daunting task in No. 15 seed "Dunk City", otherwise known as the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
FGCU enters the Sweet 16 with more confidence than anyone, because it rides a seven-game winning streak and has put up over 70 points in the previous five games. Clearly the Eagles have proven to outmatch their opponents offensively and suffocate on the defensive end.
The Gators are an intriguing challenge, though, because Donovan's squad is quite capable of blowing past any defense. When the season began Florida notched 74 against the Wisconsin Badgers and just last week burned the Minnesota Golden Gophers 78-64.
By comparison, the Eagles don't feature the defensive dominance like the aforementioned Big Ten schools, but they do provide the offense to outscore the Gators. To that end, let's preview how Florida can fend off its in-state competitor for a trip to the Elite Eight.
Challenge Every Shot
Don't give Florida Gulf Coast any easy open looks, period.
The Eagles found multiple ways to create uncontested attempts through the first two rounds, mainly due to their imposing presence on the inside. As a result, the elbow and wings were left more vulnerable and Florida Gulf Coast knocked down 40 percent from beyond the arc against Georgetown.
This momentum carried into the Round of 32 and the Eagles were 55.9 percent from the field versus San Diego State. Despite the blitzkrieg of dunks, unchallenged shots occurred quite often as well.
So, expect the Gators to really tighten up defensively compared to the Hoyas and Aztecs.
Florida limited Northwestern State (36 percent from the field) and Minnesota (40 percent from the field) offensively, and proceeded to pull away before the half. If anything, the Gators' ability to force ill-advised attempts and capitalize in transition has been to their advantage.
It's not so much regarding Florida Gulf Coast's efficiency at the free-throw line, because the Eagles only average 67.1 percent. The edge for the Cinderella, however, comes in the form of quantity.
Entering the Sweet 16, Florida averages almost four free-throw attempts fewer than its in-state counterpart. Getting to the line simply played a major role in the Eagles' run through March thus far.
The upset over Georgetown offers the most evidence, as Florida Gulf Coast knocked down 30-of-44 from the line compared to just 13-of-20 for the Hoyas. Foul trouble will cost any favorite versus an underdog, but more so when it's a team such as the Eagles who possess the offense to run with everyone.
By restricting Florida Gulf Coast's number of free-throws, the Gators save their defense toward the waning minutes of each half. A byproduct of this allows Florida to attack more offensively instead of trying to limit the Eagles' number of possessions.
Reach 80-plus Points
The Eagles may be an offensive-oriented team, but Florida is quite effective in its own right as well.
Interestingly enough, eight of Florida Gulf Coast's 10 losses this season have occurred when the opponent reach 80-plus points and every single victory happened without allowing this number to be reached.
In short, 80 is the threshold for the Gators.
There is reasonable concern, however, since Donovan's crew has only hit 80 points one time in its previous 11 games. Leading into March Madness the Gators were not in an offensive rhythm.
On the bright side, Florida found chemistry and has flirted with 80 points through its first two tournament contests. Erik Murphy filled his role to this point with 33 points and going 13-of-18 from the floor.
Mike Rosario really bolstered his production versus Minnesota: 8-of-12 with 25 points including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc. Florida courts the defense to isolate the Eagles in confined space, but the offense must get buckets from multiple players to dodge a colossal upset.
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