Is the Fourth Time the Charm for the Gators?Posted by David Changas on March 29th, 2014
David Changas (@dchangas) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. He filed this report in advance of Saturday’s regional final game between #1 Florida and #11 Dayton. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.
It may be tempting to look at the seeding of Florida‘s Elite Eight opponent (11) and the Vegas line on the game (Gators -10), and think that it is a sure thing the Gators will finally get back to the Final Four for the first time since their second of back-to-back national championship seasons in 2007. Florida is in the round of eight for the fourth consecutive year. The first three ended in disappointment, and though it appears that everything is set up well for the Gators to advance, doing so won’t be easy. And for coach Billy Donovan, he knows that what has happened the past three seasons won’t have any impact on what happens this year. “Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin and (Casey) Prather and some of those guys were here last year, but also a lot of guys weren’t in the roles they’re in right now,” he said Friday.
The South Region’s second and third seeds were Kansas and Syracuse, respectively, so it comes as quite a surprise that Florida’s regional final opponent will be No. 11 seed Dayton. The Flyers arrived here by virtue of their wins over Ohio State, Syracuse, and Stanford, and have shown that they belong. They boast a small but efficient offense, as constant ball movement results in open looks. Against Stanford, the Flyers had an effective field goal percentage of 55.2%. They also turned the ball over only ten times, with several of those coming after they had the game in hand. Dayton also is a very deep and gets scoring from a variety of sources. The team’s leading scorer, Jordan Sibert, averages only 12.5 PPG, but made 43% of his 183 three-point attempts on the season. Eleven Flyers scored for coach Archie Miller against the Cardinal, and only Sibert played more than 30 minutes in the win. “It was a true team effort. That’s what they’ve been about all year, so it’s nice to see on the biggest stage, us be ourselves,” Miller said after the win over Stanford.
While Dayton has good offensive efficiency numbers (they Flyers average over 1.1 points per possession) and were effective offensively against Stanford, duplicating the effort against the NCAA Tournament’s top seed will be a tall order. Florida has just as much height as the Cardinal, but is more athletic, deeper, and is better on the perimeter. Most importantly, though, the Gators are are stingy on the defensive end. Florida ranks only behind Arizona in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com. With a senior front line of Young, Prather, and Will Yeguete, it’s fair to assume Florida will present a challenge to the Flyers they have yet to see this year. Florida does struggle to score at times, but thanks to the leadership of Wilbekin, the Gators have learned how to win close games – a trait they did not possess a year ago – and have won a school-record 29 straight contests.
If Dayton is going to have any chance of pulling off what would be the Tournament’s biggest upset so far, the Flyers will have to duplicate their efforts from Thursday night’s win over Stanford, and then some. Stanford was not capable of pressing the way Donovan’s club will, and though the Flyers are deep, they should struggle some against the Gators full-court onslaught. Based upon their propensity to turn the ball over during the season, the care Dayton took with the ball against the Cardinal may have been aberration. It is also difficult to believe it will get as many good looks against one of the nation’s toughest defensive teams as they did against Stanford’s zone. Dayton’s run has been impressive, and Miller certainly has set himself up for a step up to a more high-profile job if he wants one, but after three straight years of Elite Eight disappointment, the Gators have too much for Dayton and will win the South Region, and Donovan will finally return to the Final Four.