Biggest Challenges Florida Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. Pittsburgh

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2014

Biggest Challenges Florida Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. Pittsburgh

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    Perhaps it was a wake-up call.

    The Florida Gators came into the NCAA tournament as the team on the No. 1 line. They were anointed as the best of the No. 1 seeds, and it's clear that they must get to the Final Four if the season is going to be labeled a success. Even that may not be enough to satisfy head coach Billy Donovan and his band of hungry players.

    They want a championship, but if they play the way they did in their first game against Albany, they won't get there. The Gators played ordinary basketball and did not look like champions.

    But they did survive. Now they face a much tougher team in Pittsburgh, and the Panthers are coming off of a blowout win over Colorado.

    The Gators face several challenges in this game, and they will have to answer them if they want to fulfill their championship goals.

Defensive Approach

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    One of the reasons the Florida Gators have been so successful this season is that they have become one of the most improved defensive teams in the nation.

    Donovan deserves credit, because the Gators cannot be labeled as playing any one particular brand of defense. His players are comfortable playing man-to-man, pressing, playing a 2-3 zone or playing a 1-3-1 zone.

    This keeps the Gators from becoming predictable, and that means opponents can't figure them out. It may look like an opponent is starting to understand their 1-3-1 zone and then Donovan switches to a pressing defense.

    Pittsburgh is a well-coached and well-prepared team, and the Panthers should be ready for anything the Gators will throw at them. However, when Donovan calls for a defensive switch, that's when his players must take advantage.

Strength on the Bench

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    Dorian Finney-Smith
    Dorian Finney-SmithKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Gators have talent and experience up and down their starting lineup. Donovan knows that Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II and Scottie Wilbekin are as formidable as any starting lineup in the nation.

    But it doesn't end there for the Gators. There's talent on the bench, and in the case of Dorian Finney-Smith, the Gators have a very special forward in reserve

    Finney-Smith has skill as an inside player, and he can also take it outside and bomb the three-pointer. There aren't many bench players in the nation who can be successful inside and outside. Finney-Smith is the best rebounder on the team, and he is hungry to punish opponents.

    The Gators need him to come up big against Pittsburgh.

Offensive Versatility

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    The Gators have been fairly predictable on the offensive end through much of the Donovan era. While they have usually had overwhelming talent, they weren't hard to figure out from a strategic point of view.

    The Gators wanted to run and they wanted to take three-pointers.

    Their execution has been so good that it didn't matter opponents usually knew what was coming.

    That's not the case this year. The Gators still like to run and take the three-pointer, but they are more comfortable playing a pattern offense and working the ball around until they find the right shot than they have been in the past.

    This strategy has worked extremely well for them this year, and they need to continue to play that way and not revert to type. If they keep looking for the best shot, they will be very tough to beat.

    If they don't, they give Pittsburgh a chance to hang in there and give them a fight.

Free-Throw Shooting

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    When the subject is the Florida Gators, it's difficult to find weaknesses in their game. They are talented, athletic and well coached. They don't do anything badly.

    However, there are some areas of their game that are stronger than others. Free-throw shooting is perhaps their biggest weakness.

    The Gators shot .673 from the free-throw line during the regular season. That's not awful, but that's not what you want to see from a championship-caliber team.

    They are bound to play a close game or two during their tournament run, and missed free throws could cost them a championship.

Pressure

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    The Florida Gators are the hunted. They are clearly the most respected team in the nation, and while they are not undefeated like the Wichita State Shockers, they are the team to beat.

    The Gators have responded to pressure in the past, and Donovan has two national championships to his credit.

    However, just because the Gators have responded to championship pressure in the past doesn't mean they will again. Donovan has to find a way to relieve the pressure so his team is at its best. 

    The Gators were not at their best against Albany. Many power teams have struggled in their opening NCAA tournament game in the past, and they usually respond the next time out if their championship aspirations are legitimate.

    The Gators have to contend with the pressure and raise their game to a peak level when they face the Panthers.