NCAA Bracket 2011: Florida's Route To a National Championship
Despite Joe Lunardi's musings, the Gators were able to snatch up a No. 2 seed in Tampa. This is the road I predict that the Gators will have to take to reach their goal of the 2011 National Championship.
For what it's worth, when Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was asked what team stands out to him as a contender that nobody is talking about, he didn't hesitate to mention the Gators. He of course has a little bias. His son is on Billy Donovan's coaching staff and Billy Donovan is Rick Pitino's former protege.
Let's take a look at each team that's in the way of the Gators and a third National Championship. I've listed each team's Sagarin rating which is a better predictor of tournament success than RPI.
I'm going to put out a prediction on each Gator game day so look out for that.
UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (16-13)
Round 2 Game
2 Florida vs 15 UC Santa Barbara
Sagarin rating: No. 144
UC Santa Barbara is the automatic qualifier out of the Big West Conference. They upset Long Beach State to win the tournament.
This will be Florida's first game since the Kentucky loss in the SEC Championship game. I predicted the Gators would face some adversity in the SEC Tournament (I predicted the Gators would win a game or two and then get knocked out). I think experiencing that stinging loss will provide the motivation to make the Gators a better team
Chandler Parsons had this to say: “(The Kentucky loss) definitely hurts right now, but we're still going to go into the tournament confident, and we still think we're a very good team, and we could make some noise in the tournament.”
Concerning Santa Barbara's nickname, Wikipedia defines Gaucho as a term commonly used to describe residents of the South American pampas, chacos, or Patagonian grasslands, found principally in parts of Argentina, Uruguay, Southern Chile, and Southern Brazil. It loosely translates to cowboy or vaquero. I know you were curious; I was.
The Gauchos will need some special magic to beat the Gators.
UCLA Bruins (22-10)
Round 3 Game
2 Florida vs 7 UCLA
Sagarin rating: No. 47
So this will be round three even though it will only be Florida and UCLA's second game of the tournament. The four play-in games are now the first round. The NCAA is preparing for the inevitability of further expansion. They want to have a full play-in round.
I thought this UCLA matchup would be a good time to reminisce.
This game could also be against Michigan State which would be a rematch of the 2000 National Championship game that UF lost. Florida also was knocked out of the tournament in the second round by Michigan State in 2003.
It's more fun to think about UCLA...so back to 2006 we go. The Gators played UCLA to cap off a season where they came out of nowhere to win the school's first NCAA Championship in basketball. They won 73-57 in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Final Four Most Outstanding Player, sophomore Joakim Noah totaled 16 points, nine rebounds and a title-game record six blocks in the victory for the Gators. Sophomore Lee Humphrey scored 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting from behind the three-point arc. Sophomore Al Horford was involved with 14 points, seven boards, three assists and sophomore Corey Brewer notched 11 points, six rebounds and four assists.
I think the 2011 Gators compare favorably to the 2006 version whenever they're playing well as a team. The only thing that stands out is Noah's shot blocking. He was a beast in that tournament blocking a total of 29 shots to set a record. The greatest thing about Noah is he kept his blocked shots in bounds. How often do you see someone get a block and send the ball into the third row? If you keep the ball in bounds and get possession, blocked shots are a game changer instead of just an arena energizer.
Brigham Young University Cougars (29-4)
Regional Semifinal Game
2 Florida vs 3 BYU
Sagarin rating: No. 6
Last year Kenny Boynton scored 27 points and Florida rallied late to force overtime but the Gators fell 99-92 to BYU in double overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City. Jimmer Fredette scored 37 points, including two 3-pointers in the second overtime period to seal the deal.
Last year's Gator team was Jimmered out of the tournament. When Florida got the No. 10 seed last year, I thought they might be able to pull off an upset or two. All five Florida starters from that game are back and a year older. I think Florida will handle Jimmer now especially since BYU center Brandon Davies is out. They haven't played as well without him.
Pittsburgh Panthers (27-5)
Regional Final Game
1 Pittsburgh vs 2 Florida
Sagarin rating: No. 5
This game will match the Big East Regular Season Champion against the SEC Regular Season Champion. Pitt was beat by eventual Big East Tournament Champion UConn on a last second shot from Kemba Walker. Florida was beat by the SEC Tournament Champion Kentucky Wildcats. This would be a great matchup of teams, coaches, and programs. Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon is one of the best coaches in the Big East.
Billy Donovan said his team is in the infant stages of getting ready for the tournament right now. They're not doing anything physical as of Monday, the 14th. Donovan said he was not surprised by his team's high seed. He thinks it's a reward for the Gators entire body of work, especially non conference wins against Kansas State, Xavier, and Florida State.
National Semifinal Game
2 Florida vs 2 Notre Dame
Sagarin rating: No. 8
Big East coach of the year Mike Brey against SEC coach of the year Billy Donovan.
Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough versus SEC player of the year Chandler Parsons.
There should be enough headlines for everybody with that match-up.
Ohio State Buckeyes (32-2)
1 Ohio State vs 2 Florida
Sagarin rating: No. 1
Great history for these schools. Florida and Ohio State have met for the National Championship in football and basketball. Could this be a second go-round for the basketball national title? It also could be Notre Dame, Kansas, or a team like Louisville. I think Ohio State will make it though.
Earlier this year in the O'Connell Center, these two teams squared off. Kenny Boynton scored 21 points, but Florida could not overcome Ohio State’s second-half surge and fell, 93-75. Seniors Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin added in 13 and 12 points respectively and junior Erving Walker had 15. The important thing to take from this game for the Gators is that they played close in the first half.
Like I said heading into the SEC Tournament, fouls and foul shooting are key areas for Florida. In the win against Tennessee, Florida shot 25-37 from the free throw line. Against Vanderbilt, Florida only had twelve personal fouls. In the loss to Kentucky, Florida was called for 22 fouls and only shot eight free throws making three. There was some suspect officiating in that game but Florida got beat fair and square.
Heading into the NCAA Tournament, Florida's players can't get distracted by officiating or loud crowds and all the other things that come with March Madness. Florida needs to focus on themselves, connect as a team, and work on getting better. Do that, play good defense without fouling and make free throws on the other end and this team can win the National Championship.