After being throttled by Kentucky in the SEC tournament final on Sunday, Billy Donovan’s Gators (26-7) learned they are a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Not only are they a two-seed, but Florida will be playing the first two rounds in St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.
So, just how far will the Gators go in the tournament?
Answer. Not very far. After watching Florida’s lackluster play from the starting big men, I’m worried about this squad in the tournament.
After all, the Cinderellas love to pick their teeth with inconsistent and questionable teams.
Interestingly, Florida is, in my opinion, in the weakest regional.
Sadly, I’d be shocked to see them make it out of the second round.
Yes, I know I sound like I’m contradicting myself saying Florida’s in the weakest regional, but will only reach the second round, but just keep reading.
First and foremost, the Gators should not underestimate any team in the NCAA Tournament.
This season, Florida almost certainly cost themselves a one-seed with losses at home to Jacksonville and South Carolina, Mississippi State on the road and Central Florida on a neutral site.
UC-Santa Barbara has nothing to lose. They are essentially playing a road game on Florida’s turf.
Florida’s had struggles guarding bigger guards and you can probably add junior guard Orlando Johnson to the mix.
Johnson is averaging 21.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and three assists per game for the Gauchos. The efficient scorer is shooting 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. Did I mention the team’s leading rebounder is an 81 percent free-throw shooter?
The Gauchos have size inside with Greg Somogvi (7’3”, 242 pounds), Jaime Serna (6’9”, 235 pounds), Lucas Devenny (6’9”, 250 pounds) and Jon Pastorek (6’10”, 210 pounds).
The problem is Serna (4.4 rebounds) and Pastorek (4.2 rebounds), outside of Johnson, are the only players averaging over four rebounds per game.
Somogvi has shown to be a defensive presence inside. He’s swatting just under 1.9 blocks per game.
Those are not numbers of a team poised to pull off an upset in March.
My guess is UC-Santa Barbara will hang around for awhile, but will fade down the stretch with Florida prevailing by 10 or 12 points.
Okay. Florida’s through to round two. Who’s next? Florida would face either UCLA or Michigan State.
Florida would have trouble with either team.
Recent history suggests the Gators would prefer UCLA over Michigan State.
Donovan owns two wins over Ben Howland in Final Four games. The Orange and Blue trounced the Bruins in the 2006 National Championship and 2007 National Semifinal.
It’s safe to say Howland would love to return the favor and pull off an upset in Florida’s backyard.
Like Florida, UCLA has balanced scoring. Each starter’s scoring ranges from nine to 14 per game.
Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson would be in position to do major damage to Florida’s starting frontcourt. He’s averaging 14 points and nine rebounds per game, while shooting 57 percent from the field.
Freshman center Joshua Smith, who is a former five-star recruit by rivals.com, will give Florida’s big men all they can handle with his 6'10" and 305-pound frame.
Tyler Honeycutt, frame-wise (6’8”, 188 pounds), appears to be cut from the same cloth as former Gator great Corey Brewer. He’s averaging 12.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Howland would assign him to keep tabs on Parsons.
Junior guard Malcolm Lee has enjoyed a solid junior campaign. The 6'5" Lee would use his long arms to contest Walker and Boynton’s jumpers.
Donovan’s squads have had their misfortunes against Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
Michigan State defeated Florida 89-76 for the National Championship in 2000, and again in 2003, with the Spartans prevailing 68-46 in the second round in 2003.
Ironically, Florida was a No. 2 seed in 2003 and the game was held in Tampa.
Izzo owns a 3-2 edge over Donovan, but the Gators defeated Michigan State 77-74 in last year’s contest in Atlantic City, N.J.
Michigan State’s squad certainly knows what it takes to make deep runs in March. Izzo’s team has reached two consecutive Final Fours (losing to North Carolina in the National Championship game in 2009 and losing to Butler in the National Semifinal last season).
Michigan State remains a dangerous squad despite the 14 losses on their resume. Their size and athleticism would be a tough matchup for the Gators.
Michigan State is led by senior guard Kalin Lucas (17.2 points, 3.3 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game).
Junior forward Draymond Green is the Spartans’ version of Chandler Parsons, the jack-of-all trade kind of player. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and four assists per game.
For this year’s tournament, I’ve filled out two brackets titled “The Sensible” and “The Radical”.
“The Sensible” bracket has the Orange and Blue falling to the Bruins in the second round.
“The Radical” has an intriguing Final Four with North Carolina facing Duke and Florida facing Louisville.
What a great media story it would be to have hated rivals slugging it out for the fourth time with a spot in the Final Four.
Not to be ignored, Louisville and Florida would be titled Teacher vs. Pupil. By now, everyone knows the relationship between the two. Heck, Rick’s son, Richard, is an assistant on Donovan’s staff.
Of course, I have Duke facing Florida in the championship (completely disregarding protégé Donovan’s 0-4 all-time record against mentor Pitino), with Florida prevailing.
What a vivid imagination. The two schools that have the last teams to repeat as champions (Duke in 1991 and 1992 and Florida in 2006 and 2007) facing off in a winner-take-all game.
That is indeed a radical idea.