Biggest Challenges Florida Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. Dayton
The Florida Gators (35-2) have an excellent chance to make it all the way to the Final Four, as the only thing standing in their way is the 11th-seeded Dayton Flyers (26-10).
The Gators have reeled off 29 straight victories and combine skill, athleticism and toughness like no other team in the tournament.
Any team that engages the Gators quickly finds out that it has a meat grinder of an assignment in front of it. If that opponent is good enough to stick with Florida for the majority of the game—like Kentucky in the SEC Championship Game or UCLA in the Sweet 16—it discovers that the Gators know how to assert themselves when the game is on the line.
Dayton has shocked Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford to get to this point, so it's clear the Flyers have plenty of the right stuff themselves.
If they are going to challenge the Gators, look for the Flyers to use every bit of their depth to attempt to wear down Florida.
Gators Must Get over the Hump
The Gators are the No. 1 team in the nation and the No. 1 seed in the tournament. They have excellent leadership with Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Michael Frazier II, Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith.
They have proved themselves during a winning streak that has lasted nearly four months.
But they are also under significant pressure. As soon as the tournament draw was announced, the Gators were the favorite to get to the Final Four and win the title.
While they have responded to every challenge, they face a huge emotional hurdle in this game. Florida lost the Elite Eight game to Butler in 2011, Louisville in 2012 and Michigan in 2013. It became the first team to lose in the Elite Eight three straight seasons.
Based on the talent that the Gators put on the floor and their ability to execute in clutch situations, they should be able to overcome this hurdle.
However, the Flyers are playing with house money and should be quite loose. They could be a formidable opponent.
Dayton's Jordan Sibert Can Turn Any Game Around
The Flyers are a multi-faceted team that can attack on offense and defense with a number of weapons, but Jordan Sibert is their go-to guy.
The 6'4" junior scored 18 points in the Flyers' 82-72 victory over Stanford. He is averaging 12.5 points per game on the season and connecting on 45.9 percent of his shots from the floor. He can also hit his three-pointers, as he is connecting on 43.0 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
That's the area that should concern head coach Billy Donovan the most. Sibert is capable of going on a hot streak from deep and getting his team back into the game if the Flyers fall behind early.
Free-Throw Shooting Is a Concern
Florida does not have many weaknesses.
The Gators will come after the Flyers with an array of defenses. Donovan is likely to start the game in a man-to-man setup, but he can switch to several different zones if he senses that Dayton head coach Archie Miller is starting to figure out his plan of attack.
The Gators are a much more diversified offensive team than they have been in previous years. Instead of stopping beyond the arc and popping three-point shots or simply employing a fast break, Florida is comfortable employing a pattern offense as well. These Gators can work the clock with much more efficiency and find the correct shot much better than previous Florida teams.
However, the Gators could be vulnerable in the latter stages of the game if they are trying to protect the lead. Dayton may choose to foul Florida with the hope that the Gators miss from the free-throw line.
The Gators are not poor in this area, as they make 68.5 percent of their free-throw attempts, but foul shooting is basically the most inconsistent portion of their game.
Casey Prather could be a liability, as he is connecting on just 61.8 percent of his free throws.
Dayton Has Sensational Depth
None of the supposedly more talented teams that have lined up against the Flyers in the NCAA tournament has been able to shake free from them at any point in the game.
That's because Dayton coach Archie Miller has built a deep team that can come at opponents in waves. A team that has a good bench usually has an eight-man rotation, or perhaps a coach will work nine players into the game.
Miller regularly uses 11 players to wear down opponents. That's basically what he is forced to do against elite-level teams because his starters can't match up with their counterparts for long stretches.
Miller outlined his plan to The Associated Press after the Flyers eliminated Stanford: "We had 11 guys score in the game and from top to bottom, we kept coming and coming. The way they shared the ball and moved the ball...it was a true team effort. It's nice that on the biggest stage, we acted like ourselves."
The Gators have excellent bench play led by Dorian Finney-Smith, but they don't go as deep as Dayton, and that could cause a problem.
The Gators were on top of their offensive game when they defeated UCLA 79-68 in the Sweet 16.
They connected on 29 of 58 shots from the field, and that 50 percent shooting allowed them to have an answer every time UCLA mounted a challenge.
However, the Florida offense did not run as smoothly against Pittsburgh in the round of 32. The Gators made 25 of 58 shots from the field and struggled to find their rhythm throughout that game.
Michael Frazier II, who made seven of 13 shots against the Bruins, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, was not on his game against Pittsburgh. He made just 3-of-10 against the Panthers, and that included just 2-of-9 from beyond the arc.
While the Gators play consistent defense and regularly outwork their opponents, their offensive game is not quite as good as it could be. This might pose a problem in the Elite Eight meeting with Dayton.