I’ll be blunt. This is about as easy a road as Florida could have possibly gotten to North Texas. There are games still to be played, though, and March Madness is the international capital of upsets. So what I’m going to do is break down each of Florida’s potential opponents in the South region and present my case for both why Florida will and will not beat them.
Round of 64 (Orlando, FL)
(16) Albany Great Danes (18-14, 9-7 Amer. East)
Why Florida will win: The Great Danes have been defeated by- and hold your giggles until the end- Quinnipiac, Duquesne, Bucknell, Holy Cross, Colgate, Drake, Pittsburgh, Vermont, UMass-Lowell, New Hampshire, Vermont again, Hartford, U Maryland-Baltimore County, and Stony Brook. Only one of those teams- Pitt- is in the NCAA Tournament. Oh, and no 16 has ever beaten a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. No further explanation necessary.
Why Florida will lose: Australian born guard Peter Hooley could throw a scare into the Gators with a couple of quick threes. Also, Florida does have a tendency to play down to inferior opponents’ level, if you remember both Auburn games, both Alabama games and the Richmond game.
Verdict: Florida would crush Albany even on the worst of days. This team would be less than pleased with having to muscle out a victory against a 16 seed, but would find a way to do so in the extremely unlikely event that the Great Danes hang in there and force the issue. That’s the worst case scenario. A more likely one is that Florida runs away with it.
Percent chance of winning: 99%
Round of 32 (Orlando, FL)
(8) Colorado Buffaloes (23-11, 10-8 Pac-12)
Why Florida will win: Because they can’t win road games. It’s that simple. Colorado boasts home wins over Kansas and Georgia, but got thumped on the road against UCLA, Utah, Arizona State and Washington. Colorado’s guards would have their hands full trying to contain Scottie Wilbekin and/or Kasey Hill. Good luck with that matchup. This team is simply not the same without Spencer Dinwiddie, and Colorado lacks the dependable scorer needed to beat Florida.
Why Florida will lose: The Gators would have to try to lose to Colorado. But I suppose it’s possible, if the Gators go ice cold from the field and miss their free throws. I’m convinced that Colorado can’t beat Florida; only Florida can beat Florida, as I’ll remind you, they’ve tried very hard to do a few times this year.
Verdict: If the portion of the preview designed to indicate why Florida will lose has to rely on “they have to beat themselves”, then don’t waste your time. I have Pitt beating Colorado in my bracket anyway, but should this matchup come to happen, the Gators will crush the Buffaloes.
Percent chance of winning: 98%
(9) Pittsburgh Panthers (25-9, 11-7 ACC)
Why Florida will win: This would be the game in which Patric Young is first unleashed, since the first round game will probably be such a ridiculous score that Billy Donovan won’t even bother. I don’t believe that Pitt has the bigs down low to contain Young, and even if they do, that would require so much focus that Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill would be left alone to do some damage of their own. Pitt’s defense has looked good at times this year, but here’s betting that Florida puts up some points against the Panthers. Then there are the offensive woes. Pitt really struggles to score at times, and I think a game against Florida, a team that mainly wins with its defense, would be one of those times.
Why Florida will lose: Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson form a nice 1-2 punch of forwards who can score a bundle of points if you’re not careful. This is a scrappy, knee kicking Pitt team that wins a lot of close games (and loses some, too), and even though Florida is as well, I would tend to be slightly less confident in a close game late than I would normally be.
Verdict: I watched Pitt in person at MSG, and they looked really, really bad. Sorry. They looked like a high school team, miserably failing the eye test. I do think they’ll beat Colorado, but there are way too many questions about this team on both ends of the floor to even consider an upset as a possibility.
Percent chance of winning: 92%.
Sweet 16 (Memphis, TN)
(5) VCU Rams (16-8, 12-4 A-10)
Why Florida will win: VCU looked terrible against the same FSU team the Gators beat without its full roster. They also have a sweep at the hands of St. Joes on their resume to explain. They’re a physical team, but one that’s 5-7 in games decided by 10 points or less. That’s not a stat you want to carry into a game against a team like Florida, who makes a living salting away close games late. Also, other than Treveon Graham, VCU lacks a dependable scorer- their second highest scorer (Juvonte Reddic) averages 11.9 per game. Against a Florida team that lives and dies by its defense, that’s also not good.
Why Florida will lose: Shaka Smart knows the system Billy Donovan runs (he spent two years as an assistant at Florida in 2008-2009), and he’s pulled off improbable, logic-defying upsets before. That’s probably the best I can offer to VCU fans here. X’s and O’s wise, this is a total mismatch. As I just said, though, Smart has led to his teams to upsets that are simply unpredictable on paper.
Verdict: A low scoring, yet relatively convincing Florida victory appears to be in order here. VCU does play good defense, but not enough to completely stop Florida on offense, and their guards have not seen an on-ball defender as good as Wilbekin all season. Think in the 60-45 range.
Percent chance of winning: 78%
(12) Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks (31-2, 18-0 Southland)
Why Florida will win: Don’t be fooled by SFA’s sterling record. The Lumberjacks don’t have a single win over a team in the NCAA Tournament, though they did play Texas pretty close. Anyway, SFA is not particularly strong down low and Florida’s bigs should have a field day. When they put more focus on defending the paint, that’s when the ball gets kicked out to Michael Frazier for a three, and then it’s all over.
Why Florida will lose: I’d be stunned if SFA makes it to the Sweet 16 to begin with, even though they seem to be a pretty popular upset pick. But if they do, then they’ll be playing their best basketball of the year, and Florida will need to be careful of not playing down to their opponents’ level… see, I can’t do this with a straight face.
Verdict: SFA will not even have a prayer if they somehow make it here. They may keep it close for a while, in a vein similar to Gulf Coast last year, but then superior talent and coaching will take over. Throw away your pencil and give Florida a double digit win with a black sharpie.
Percent chance of winning: 90%
(4) UCLA Bruins (26-8, 12-6 Pac-12)
Why Florida will win: Because they have every single time they’ve played UCLA to date? Florida will likely be playing their best ball now, which means they should be able to wear the jet-lagged Bruins down and out by swinging the ball around the perimeter, draining the shot clock and making them move as much as possible. UCLA will have to travel a great deal for this game, changing over two time zones on what’s just shy of a four hour plane ride after inexplicably getting two home games in San Diego as a 4 seed. That hasn’t gone well for them this year, losing at Missouri and to Duke (quite handily) at MSG. They even lost on the road to Utah.
Why Florida will lose: Kyle Anderson may be the most underrated player in this region. He can do lots of different things for Steve Alford’s offense, and could present a matchup problem for a Florida defense that (while among the best in the country) has not had to deal with too many of them to date. He could scare the you know what out of the Gators if they don’t quickly figure out how to account for him. Plus, UCLA’s got to be tired of losing to Florida. Here’s betting Alford really gets his team ready for this game.
Verdict: UCLA will hang tough for awhile, and for a moment, may put Gator fans’ brackets on life support. But like Florida has done all year, they’ll find a way to escape late. Whether that’s Wilbekin or Frazier hitting a big three, or Patric Young doing his Pat-man who found the strawberry impression, I couldn’t tell you, because the Gators have a different hero every game. But they will find a way to pull it out.
Percent chance of winning: 75%
(13) Tulsa Golden Hurricane (21-12, 13-3 C-USA)
Why Florida will win: Tulsa has lost to way too many teams I cannot deem respectable. They include Oral Roberts, Missouri State, TCU, Green Bay, Charlotte and UAB. I don’t see how they’ll beat UCLA, but if they somehow do, and then beat the VCU-SFA winner, they’ll have to face a Florida team eager to carve them up on the boards and on the perimeter.
Why Florida will lose: If Tulsa makes the Sweet 16, they’d be on a 13 game winning streak, meaning they’d be peaking at the right time. In particular, James Woodard has been playing really well lately, averaging 21.4 points in his last five games. Scottie Wilbekin could wind up getting more than he bargained for trying to guard him.
Verdict: Please. Even if Tulsa does make it here, they’ll never be able to keep up with the supremely talented Gators at all five positions for more than a couple of media timeouts. Wilbekin and Hill should have no trouble slashing to the hoop, Patric Young should have no trouble scoring inside, and Florida should have no trouble putting this game away midway through the second half.
Percent chance of winning: 95%
Elite 8 (Memphis, TN)
(6) Ohio State Buckeyes (25-9, 10-8 Big 10)
Why Florida will win: See the opening line of the UCLA piece, although add “in the postseason” to it. Aaron Craft, for all the hype he gets, is a bit overrated as both an on-ball defender and an offensive leader. Scottie Wilbekin has to be salivating at the prospect of taking him on one on one, as he does both better than Craft despite Craft getting all the national attention. Here’s betting at some point in the Tournament- whether that be against Florida or somebody else- Craft will have a shot to win it, and he’ll fail. Ohio State also has a tendency to fall into deep holes early in games, which obviously behooves Florida- as long as they don’t blow it down the stretch.
Why Florida will lose: I do think Craft is slightly overrated, but he’s still very good at what he does- maybe better than anybody Florida’s faced this year. LaQuinton Ross could get the Bucks some points from the hybrid forward spot he plays, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. could prove to be a matchup problem. Part of Ohio State’s problem is that they were beaten up by a grueling Big 10 schedule, hence their not so impressive record. But they have proven to be more than capable of beating good teams on multiple occasions.
Verdict: It’s going to be tough, but the Gators can do it if only because Ohio State lacks the paint monster to compensate for not having Patric Young. That would be the difference late in this game, and Ohio State wouldn’t have an answer.
Percent chance of winning: 70%
(11) Dayton Flyers (23-10, 10-6 A-10)
Why Florida will win: If Florida’s going to be turned away from the Final Four one step short for the fourth consecutive year, it’s sure not going to come at the hands of a team with less talent. Sorry, Dayton, but that’s the truth. They simply don’t have an answer for Scottie Wilbekin at the point, Patric Young down low or Michael Frazier on the perimeter. The Flyers will have to win games with hustle and grit to get to the Elite Eight, like most double digit seeds, and while I wouldn’t put it past them to do the same in this game, I’d expect Florida to be the team that finally wears them down on both sides of the floor.
Why Florida will lose: The Flyers enter the NCAA Tourney on a hot streak. Prior to losing to St. Joe’s in the A-10 Tournament, they’d won 10 out of their last 11 games. Jordan Silbert has done a great job running the Flyers’ offense this year, and may make Wilbekin work on the defensive side of the ball.
Verdict: This Florida team is going to want a win in the Elite Eight more than any team they play against, but certainly more than Dayton, who would be shocking everybody else just to get here. With the painful exception of Butler three years ago, the Gators are arguably the best at shutting down Cinderella runs (George Mason, Norfolk State, Florida Gulf Coast). Should Dayton get here, mark this one down as another example.
Percent chance of winning: 85%
(3) Syracuse Orange (27-5, 4-4 ACC)
Why Florida will win: The Orange are ice cold right now, having lost five out of their last seven games. Should they reach the Elite Eight, they will likely have somewhat recovered their confidence, but it would come against teams that are less than respectable (we already know what I think of the relative strength of South Region). Note that while the Joel Embiid injury makes Syracuse perhaps the most talented team Florida could face in the region, this is a team that is simply not playing good basketball right now, even if they win three games to get here. The Gators will have to make some threes to beat Syracuse’s zone, but between Frazier, Wilbekin and DeVon Walker, I have confidence that they’ll make enough to win.
Why Florida will lose: Syracuse has some leaders of their own, namely CJ Fair, and he’s tasted a good deal of defeat himself. Throw in talented youngsters Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis and this is a pretty good team. They did, after all, start out 25-0, and they do have the personnel to create some matchup problems for Florida all over the floor. There’s always the distinct possibility the Gators will have one of those awful days from outside, and they can’t afford one if they want to beat the Orange.
Verdict: The Gators’ inside game could be clogged up by the Cuse zone, which may throw the offense into chaos for awhile. But late in the game, Frazier or Wilbekin will hit a huge three to propel the Gators on a backbreacking run to punch the Gators’ ticket to the Final Four.
Percent chance of winning: 65%
(14) Western Michigan Broncos (23-9, 14-4 MAC)
Why Florida will win: No 14 seed has ever advanced to the Final Four. I won’t speak for the other three 14 seeds, but this WMU team that’s lost to Drake, Bowling Green, Buffalo and North Dakota State isn’t going to become the pioneer. The only thing you need to know about this highly farfetched Elite Eight matchup is that the Broncos have trouble scoring points in the MAC- good luck doing anything against the Gators’ nasty defense.
Why Florida will lose: Insert the standard “if the Cinderella team gets this far, who’s to say they can’t go one step further?” line here. Spoiler alert: I’m going to repeat this in the Eastern Kentucky piece, too.
Verdict: Western Michigan is virtually unimpressive in every single way. If the Broncos somehow get here, their run will end in a rather unceremonious fashion.
Percent chance of winning: 99%
(7) New Mexico Lobos (27-6, 15-3 MWC)
Why Florida will win: The Lobos really have trouble scoring points against good defenses, like San Diego State, and the Aztecs’ defense isn’t as good as Florida’s. Gulp for Lobos fans. On another note, after watching this team play twice this year, I noticed that they have a tendency to get tired late in close games. The Gators will make them pay for it by drawing out each possession, exaggerating the ball movement, and running them ragged.
Why Florida will lose: Cameron Bairstow averages over 20 points a game, and could cause a significant matchup problem. Also, UNM travels relatively well for a so-called mid major, so the Gators may not outnumber the Lobos fans quite like they think they will in Memphis.
Verdict: New Mexico doesn’t particularly scare me. Should the Lobos find a way to even get here, let alone hang with the Gators longer than people expect, Florida will play their grind it out game that hasn’t failed since Shabazz Napier got a lucky rebound back in December. It won’t fail here, either.
Percent chance of winning: 80%
(10) Stanford Cardinal (21-12, 10-8 Pac-12)
Why Florida will win: Stanford does not play well on the road, and this game would be played four solid hours away from their campus- by plane. See road losses to Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and Arizona State. They also have a rebounding problem, as well as a close game problem (seven losses by single digits), both of which will be fatal against a physical Gator team that would try to tackle a taxiing jet if told to in order to make the Final Four. Color this one as a safe bet in a tournament that’s historically anything but safe bets.
Why Florida will lose: Don’t let the 21-12 record fool you. The Pac-12 is a solid top to bottom conference, where even the bad teams aren’t horrible. The Cardinal are capable of beating some good teams, especially if Chasson Randle continues to play the aggressive style of basketball that’s led him to score 20+ points in four of his last five games.
Verdict: The Cardinal are a decent team… but they can’t close. They just cannot finish off close games late, and pay them off with a victory. They may actually keep this one close, but the Gators won’t let them steal a Final Four ticket away from them. Patric Young will take over late and seal the deal.
Percent chance of winning: 83%
(2) Kansas Jayhawks (24-9, 14-4 Big 12)
Why Florida will win: The Gators started slow against Kansas in the regular season matchup in Gainesville… and then they went on a 21-0 run that was as impressive as anything I’ve ever seen from a Florida basketball team. Oh, and that was without Florida having much of its bench available, and with Joel Embiid playing for Kansas. If the Gators can duplicate an effort like that, and quite possibly without Embiid playing at 100% strength, the Jayhawks are in trouble.
Why Florida will lose: Contrary to popular belief, Embiid isn’t the only player on Kansas. They also have a guy named Andrew Wiggins, who burned Florida for 26 in Gainesville. If Wiggins gets hot again, and the Gators don’t have an answer each time, Florida could actually find themselves getting blown out. The pressure is on Frazier, Wilbekin, and Young to produce points, because if they don’t, it’s going to be Elite Eight defeat number four for this group of seniors.
Verdict: Embiid is the key. No, he didn’t have a great game against Florida the first time around, but he’s been pretty dependable since then before he got hurt. How well does he play? In any case, though, I expect Frazier- ole reliable- to come through in the clutch and bury the Jawhawks late.
Percent chance of winning: 69%
(15) Eastern Kentucky Colonels (24-9, 11-5 OVC)
Why Florida will win: Let’s keep this brief, because I find it highly unlikely the Colonels make it here. Florida has beaten a 15 seed in each of the last three years, and each instance was one round later than the round in which they did it the year before. Also, EKU has lost to Youngstown State, Tennessee Tech, Morehead State, Belmont, Murray State and SIU-Edwardsville. Questions?
Why Florida will lose: Nothing short of a team wide ailment that requires hospitalization will cause Florida to lose this game. EKU is among the weakest 15 seeds I’ve seen, and though they can score points in bunches, I’d tend to think that that’s more because of the low level competition they faced, not because they’re an offensive machine.
Verdict: Florida would have to be drunk to blow a 4th straight Elite Eight game at the hands of a lowly mid major. And you’d have to be drunk for picking the Colonels to get this far in the first place.
Percent chance of winning: 99%