NCAA Bracket 2011: Florida Gators' Erving Walker Deserves Respect

Patrick MangumContributor IMarch 23, 2011

NCAA Bracket 2011: Florida Gators' Erving Walker Deserves Respect

0 of 3

    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The Florida Gators will face BYU on Thursday at 7:27 PM EST.

    If they get past the Cougars, the Gators play the winner of Wisconsin vs. Butler (Thursday at 9:57) on March 26th in New Orleans. Wisconsin and Butler both feel disrespected.

    A lot of people were predicting Wisconsin to fall in the first round (officially the second round, but we all know that's BS) to Belmont, a No. 13 seed.

    This will be the ninth straight NCAA tournament game that the 2010 national runner-up Butler Bulldogs will be considered the underdogs.

    I expect it to be a hard-fought, well-played game. I also expect for Butler to continue their two-year Cinderella run and meet the Gators to see who advances to the Final Four.

    Let's take a closer look at Florida's road to the Final Four, but first let me talk heart-to-heart to Gator Nation about a man who should need no introduction.

Lil' Big Shot Erving Walker

1 of 3

    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Erving Walker deserves respect—and an apology.

    I’ve listened to Gator fans for three years criticize Walker and his game. Ever since he came to Florida and took Jai Lucas’ job (he transferred to Texas after Walker’s freshmen year), Gator Nation has take shots at the diminutive guard.

    I will acknowledge that he does have the tendency to get out of control on drives in the paint. In the past, he has been prone to turnovers and suspect shot selection. Maybe his personality and interviews leave something to be desired.

    He has grown in all of those areas during his three years at Florida. There is one thing though that has never changed since the day he stepped on campus: the size of his heart. He is a 5’7” guard with the heart of a seven-footer.

    The Brooklyn native cares about this Gator team just as much if not more than any diehard Gator fan out there. When he cried after his last-second shot was blocked last year in the Auburn game to eliminate UF from the SEC tournament and consideration for the NCAA tournament—those were orange and blue tears he cried.

    He wants the ball in his hands when it counts because he knows it counts more to him than to others. He is absolutely devastated when he doesn’t come through in the clutch, which is less often than when he does.

    He’s been taking and making big shots ever since he stepped on campus.

    His passion and toughness deserve respect, and I think he may also deserve an apology, Gator fans.

Gators vs. Jimmer 2.0

2 of 3

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Florida and BYU played each other last year in the first round of the tournament, but these are not the same teams.

    Florida does return all five of their starters plus sixth man, Erik Murphy. New to the team this year are freshmen Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather. Young and Wilbekin, specifically, have been integral to Florida’s success this year. Prather can come in and play good defense and knock down a shot or two.

    Jimmer Fredette, of course, is the headliner for BYU, averaging a NCAA-best 28.8 PPG. BYU, however, is without Michael Lloyd Jr., who transferred to Midwestern State University (he said the Mormon thing was not for him). He scored 26 points in last year’s double overtime game that eliminated Florida from the tourney. Tyler Haws, a freshman last year, is on an LDS mission and the Cougars also lost seniors Jonathan Tavernari and Chris Miles from the 2010 team.

    There is also the matter of center Brandon Davies, kicked off the team for having sex with his girlfriend.

    It’s not like Brigham Young's cupboard is bare or anything. They still have senior sharp-shooter Jackson Emery and solid contributors: forward Noah Hartsock and junior swingman Charles Abouo.

    I think all the changes favor Florida. They kept their starting lineup and added depth to their bench. Jimmer is a beast, and an older, better one, at that, but I think the Gators are motivated, focused and improved enough to handle him. They won’t stop him, but they’ll keep him from getting his teammates involved.

    I don’t think it will be quite as close as last year, but still an exciting game.

    Gators 74, BYU 69.

Florida's Fight for the Final Four

3 of 3

    J. Meric/Getty Images

    I picked Pitt to be in this game versus the Gators, so I’ll give myself a redo and pick Butler this time.

    Butler is playing with a chip on their shoulder. They are the defending national runners-up, but nobody is talking about them. Plenty of people are talking about defending national champ Duke, though.

    Butler understands they are going to have to win it all to actually be respected, and they are on their way to do so.

    This game is a scary one for the Gators. Though Florida has had previous success against the Bulldogs in the tourney, it does not matter. This is a different Butler program. I don’t think of them as a mid-major anymore. I feel compelled to call for the Gators to lose here, but I picked them to win it all and I still feel everything is in their control.

    To me, it doesn’t matter who Florida plays because it’s all about the Gators and how they play. Florida has all the pieces to win the national championship; it’s just a matter of keeping the pieces working together and executing.

    Against UCLA, Florida had a few too many fouls with 18 (Billy Donovan and the officials might have a nice discussion about this topic), but they went 13-of-17 at the charity stripe. Most importantly, they didn’t let the suspect officiating affect their play.

    If you have read my recent Florida articles, you know my keys for the Gators: play good defense without fouling (Florida is only school in country not to have a player foul out), convert free-throw attempts and keep composure in the face of the madness of March.

    So, if they accomplish those things, the Gators will move on to the Final Four. Gators win 69-68 on a last-second shot. Thank you, Erving Walker, and on behalf of Gator Nation, I apologize.