5 Things We Learned from Florida's Win over Dayton
The fourth time was the charm for the Florida Gators.
Billy Donovan's team put its own spin on the third-time-is-the-charm cliche, as the Gators finally made good on their collective promise by earning a spot in the Final Four after getting stopped in the regional finals three years in a row.
Florida defeated Dayton 62-52 and sent the Cinderella Flyers home after they had recorded three unexpected victories in the NCAA tournament. Dayton featured hard-nosed defensive players, an 11-player rotation and solid shooters, and disposing of the Flyers was not easy.
Florida has won 30 consecutive games, and the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament has been living up to the hype. Here's what we learned about the Gators following their Elite Eight victory.
Defense Never Rests
Billy Donovan already has two national championships to his credit, and his teams have been known for their strong fundamental play.
That means Donovan's teams never let up on defense. That part of the Gators' game was never better than it was against Dayton.
The basics of the game tell part of the story as the Flyers were held to 52 points, and they were limited to 19-of-48 shooting from the field.
But the other part of the story—and it is one that will play a huge role when the Gators get to Arlington for the Final Four—is the unit's sophistication. The Gators can switch from man-to-man to multiple zone looks seamlessly. They also play a nasty, harassing brand of defense without fouling. They were called for just 10 fouls in the game, and no Gator was called for more than two fouls.
That gives Donovan personnel options, and he is fully able to take advantage of them.
The Gators were bigger, stronger and more athletic than the Flyers, and they figured to have a significant edge on their rivals when it came to rebounding.
Florida did not let this edge slip through its fingers. The edge on the boards was even more significant than it looked on paper.
The Gators out-rebounded the Flyers 37-26 for the game and 12-5 on the offensive glass. Dayton was held to just one second-chance point in the game.
The rebounding edges took the heart out of Dayton. The inability to get second-chance points meant that Archie Miller's team had to be perfect in order to get the upset, and that was an impossibility. Dayton played very well and should be commended for staying within 10 points. However, Florida's edge in rebounding was one of the game's primary factors.
Big Man Plays with Passion
Patric Young is a game-changing player who was not going to let the Gators get their hearts broken again.
After getting stopped in the Elite Eight the last three years, the 6'9", 240-pound senior center was on top of his game against Dayton. Young connected on 5-of-9 shots from the field, scored 12 points, collected six rebounds and blocked four shots.
His presence in the middle was a factor on most possessions for Dayton. The Flyers knew that Young had the ability to swat their shots into the third row, so they either chose to fire away from the outside or alter their shots so Young could not get them.
Young got plenty of help from forward Will Yeguete, who had seven rebounds and also blocked a shot.
"When you drove in there against them, you had to think pass because they have Patric Young and Yeguete in there," Dayton forward Dyshawn Pierre told the Denver Post after the game.
Mr. Big Shot Comes Through Again
Scottie Wilbekin is the Gators' unabashed leader. He has the ball in his hands throughout the game, and that means he has to make the decisive plays at the crucial moments.
Wilbekin has obviously been doing his job well or the Gators would not have won 30 consecutive games. In many cases, he saves his heroics for end-of-game situations. However, he was brilliant throughout the Elite Eight game against Dayton as he scored 23 points, had three assists and registered three steals.
He hit 3-of-5 shots from beyond the arc, including an NBA-length bomb at the end of the first half that allowed the Gators to go to the locker room with a 38-24 lead.
Wilbekin has gone from being the Gators' bad boy who was suspended twice to the player who may be most responsible for the team's superb play this year. Any team that wants to beat the Gators is going to have to find someone who can outperform Wilbekin at the biggest moments, and that is going to be difficult.
Trending in Right Direction
It can be argued that the Gators came through with an indifferent game in their NCAA tournament opener against Albany. They defeated the unheralded Great Danes by 12 points and appeared to go through the motions for much of the game.
They were pushed hard by UCLA in the Sweet 16 and didn't shake the Bruins until the final minutes.
It would be difficult to find fault with the Gators' efforts against Pittsburgh in the round of 32 or Dayton in the Elite Eight.
While there have been huge swings in Florida's efficiency level throughout the tournament, they have won all four of their games by 10 points or more. That's a good sign for the Gators. Five of the last six teams to win their first four tournament games by 10 points or more have come away with the NCAA title.
The five teams that won the title include Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001), UConn (2004), North Carolina (2009) and Kentucky (2012). The only one that failed to bring home the championship was North Carolina's 2008 team.