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.