Hat Trick: Gators Sweep Kentucky, SEC Championships; Rewarded With Easy South Region

I have a confession to make.

After Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith each missed the front ends of one-and-ones, I thought the Gators would lose. They certainly deserved to, to be honest; they shot an ice cold 7-17 (41.2%) from the free throw line, blew a 54-39 lead with less than 11 minutes to go, and made just three field goals in the final 11 minutes.

Silly me, choking is for 2013.

Instead, the Gators pulled it off, albeit not without some help from a slippery floor at the Georgia Dome. James Young fell trying to drive with the clock under three seconds, fumbled the ball, the clock hit zero and instead of Kentucky pulling off the comeback and the upset, it all ended in yet another frustrating walk back to the locker room for the Cats- the third time that’s happened this year against Florida. The win gave the Gators their fourth SEC Tournament Championship- all in the last ten years- and the second regular season/tournament championship combination, with the first one coming in 2007.

As a fan, I have the right to bitch and moan about Florida’s awful free throw shooting, and about the 2013-esque collapse in the last 11 minutes. I have a right to point out that the Gators offense went uncharacteristically stagnant in the final 11 minutes, and it’s not totally unfair for me to suggest that this could be a major problem in the NCAA Tournament against, say, a Michigan State, a Michigan, an Arizona or a Louisville. Luckily, none of those teams are in Florida’s bracket, but the Gators could face them in the Final Four and a performance like that could be fatal.

But I’m not going to harp on that stuff, because we all know it. Let’s just take the win, the ring, and the spot in the record books and move on.

There were some good things that came out of the game, aside from the obvious fact that Florida won. We were reminded just how hot Michael Frazier could get, as if we’ve somehow developed amnesia since the South Carolina game. Same for Scottie Wilbekin. Patric Young showed just how much he WANTS the ball in the paint now, as opposed to taking it when the play calls for it. The difference was enormous, as Dakari Johnson of Kentucky can attest to after watching Young light him up for six field goals on nine attempts. And most simple of all, the fact that Florida simply finds ways to win games- even when they don’t deserve it- is something to remember when you’re filling out your brackets.

Speaking of those brackets, let’s take a second to thank the Committee for once again trying their best to give the Gators a free trip to the Final Four. Can this team manage not to screw it up?

Our Neil W Blackmon is going to do an in-depth piece discussing Florida’s “Road to North Texas” later this week, and I’ll do a piece explaining both why Florida will and will not make the Final Four, so I won’t steal NWB’s thunder or jump the gun on myself and break down each team in the region in great depth. But after initially looking through the bracket, I’ve come up with the strange feeling that nobody in the entire region scares me. Not one team.

Whoever Florida plays in their first game- Albany or Mount Saint Mary’s- should be a breeze. Same with their Round 32 opponent, which would be either Colorado or Pittsburgh.

UCLA is my pick to come out of the middle-top subregion to face Florida in the Sweet 16. No matter. UCLA has some bad losses on the road, and they’ll have to travel to Memphis. Should Florida not make a ton of turnovers and miss all their free throws, UCLA will become GatorBait for the fourth time in the last nine years. If it’s VCU that wins that subregion, so be it: the Gators are much more physical than the Rams, and VCU has trouble closing out games- Florida’s strong suit. The Gators should have no trouble.

Onto the Elite 8. Florida beat Kansas with Joel Embiid, and they should be able to beat them either without Joel Embiid or with a partially healthy Joel Embiid. Granted, this game would be neutral as opposed to in Gainesville, but Patric Young should have his way down low against anything less than a fully healthy Embiid. Should it be Syracuse that gets to the Elite 8 (and I think it will be), it could get a little dicey. Florida will have to make threes to beat the Orange zone, but I trust that either Michael Frazier or Scottie Wilbekin will make enough to pull Florida through.

What do you think? Will Florida make the Final Four? If so, who will they beat to get there and why? If not, who will beat them?

The comments are yours.

11 thoughts on “Hat Trick: Gators Sweep Kentucky, SEC Championships; Rewarded With Easy South Region

  1. This game was so exciting I logged back on for the first time in more than 3 years just to comment. Holy mother of God, we did not deserve to win. But I don’t really care about that, because we DID. We WON. WE ARE SEC CHAMPIONS. This team, while not always pretty, has certainly grown on me in the past few weeks and months.

    I do think Florida will make the Final Four beating whichever 16 seed wins that meaningless opening game, Colorado, UCLA and Syracuse, but ultimately will lose in the semifinals to either Michigan State or Villanova. I’m thankful neither team was put in Florida’s region, but we’d have to face them eventually and we’d have to play our best game to win… which is not a sure bet for us to do. But we’ll have to see!

    1. Welcome back! Under the new site design, you can just click “Remember me” when you’re logging in. Makes the whole experience much, much easier. 🙂

      I agree that Florida’s susceptible to lose to Michigan State, and maybe even Syracuse, but I think they’ll find a way to beat both. I do think they’ll make the shots to beat Syracuse. As for the Final Four, even when healthy, Sparty has a tendency to do some stupid stuff, like throw the ball away Auburn style, hoist up ridiculous shots or foul with two on the shot clock when the guy with the ball just throws up a desperation heave. I think they’ll do it a bit against a Florida team that won’t get rattled. The final against Louisville or Michigan is where I’d be worried.

      1. Sounds good. I’ll remember that.

        Sparty does have this tendency to beat themselves, sometimes in hilarious fashion. But when they don’t, they may be the best team in the country. Yes, better than Florida. I’m really nervous about that potential matchup. I filled out my bracket this morning during a meeting at work (about some guy’s daughter’s sweet 16 on Thursday and how he wants us to take turns playing undercover cop… I’m gonna be at the game in Orlando anyway) and I have Michigan State beating Florida in the national semifinals. Gotta go with your head, and not your heart. But hey, I’ve been wrong before. Maybe I’ll be wrong about this too!

  2. You-ken-suck-on-that-y.

    This team better be final four bound, or I’m never picking them to do anything in the tournament ever again.

    1. Nice. They can suck on that.

      Let me put it this way. If this team does not make the Final Four, I will never pick them to go past the Elite 8 until they do it four times in a row. I’m dead serious. I don’t care if Florida gets a 1 seed and they clobbered every other team in their region earlier in the year, I will NOT pick the Gators to make the Final Four until they make it four times. That’s my promise. If they don’t make the Final Four for the fourth straight year that I picked them to do so, it’s gonna take four straight years of exceeding my expectations to trust them again. This is the year where all the stars align right. Is this a national championship team? I don’t know. But anything less than a Final Four spot is nothing short of a complete and utter failure.

  3. The Gators are now 15-2 in one possesion games this year. Last year they were 0-6. That’s a pretty remarkable improvement if I do say so myself.

        1. If we’re talking one possession games, Florida was 0-3 last year. They were 0-6 in games decided by single digits, though, which is a similar indicator of their penchant for choking late in close games.

  4. I agree, we got a pretty good draw, though I’m a little hesitant about our chances against Syracuse. You’re right, if we make shots we can beat their zone. But if we don’t…

    1. Yeah, that’s the question. Personally, I trust either Frazier or Wilbekin to hit enough shots to get us past the Orange. We’ll have to see though. They make me the most nervous out of anybody in this region, though that’s not really saying a whole lot.

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