Questions Loom About Florida’s NCAA Chances

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 11th, 2014

Florida entered Selection Sunday last March with just two losses and was a mortal lock for a #1 seed. This season the Gators entered the second week of December with twice that many losses after letting a 15-point halftime lead slip away against Kansas. It seemed as if Florida might flip the script on its early struggles when the Gators jumped out to that lead in Allen Fieldhouse, and had they held on they may have briefly put to rest all the hand-wringing over injuries and missed players. Instead of grabbing the most impressive road victory of the young season, the Gators folded down the stretch, and that missed opportunity raises legitimate questions over whether Florida is in early trouble in terms of the NCAA Tournament.

Billy Donovan's Gators have a lot of work to do if they want to make their sixth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. (AP)

Billy Donovan’s Gators have a lot of work to do if they want to make their sixth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. (AP)

The name of the school on the front of the jersey and the coach walking the sidelines gives the Gators a benefit of the doubt that most other schools in this position would not receive. We’ve already seen this exhibited when voters in both polls put an inexperienced team with a lot of question marks in their preseason top 10. Over the last decade-plus, Florida has not only earned this respect and still, quite frankly, might be the second best team in the SEC. Their four defeats have all come at the hands of teams currently ranked in the top 22 of KenPom’s ratings, and three of these were away from the O’Connell Center. The concern, however, is whether Florida’ remaining schedule provides enough opportunities to put together a Tournament-worthy resume. The SEC doesn’t do the Gators any favors since its two games against Kentucky is their only real chance at a marquee win. It’s not ideal, but a lack of headline-grabbing wins shouldn’t be fatal for a school that doesn’t have to fight for respect.

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Two Burning Questions: Previewing Kansas vs. Florida

Posted by Brian Goodman & David Changas on December 5th, 2014

The Big 12/SEC Challenge will wrap up tonight at 9:00 ET as Kansas looks to exact revenge for a loss in Gainesville last year. Meanwhile, the Gators are in need of a signature non-conference win, and what better venue to get that win than in a raucous Allen Fieldhouse? RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down a tilt between two of the millennium’s best programs.

BG: The Jayhawks may finally have their answer at point guard after Frank Mason enjoyed a very successful Orlando Classic as freshman Devonte’ Graham continued to heal from a shoulder injury. The sophomore posted averages of 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game last week and has been the primary reason why Kansas has regained its footing despite Graham’s troubles, Wayne Selden‘s shooting slump, and Kelly Oubre‘s failure to find his way onto the court for more than a few minutes a night. In the other backcourt, Kasey Hill has come up big for a Florida team that has otherwise struggled out of the gate. How important is this match-up to the outcome of the game and how do you see it turning out?

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

DC: Mason was absolutely terrific in Orlando, and Kansas looked nothing like the team that Kentucky embarrassed two and a half weeks ago. On the other hand, Florida came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with two losses and a mediocre win over UAB to show for it. Thus far, the Gators have a long way to go to become a good offensive team, shooting a highly inefficient 44.1 percent in effective field goal rate. With Eli Carter injured and likely to miss this game, Hill, who has finally begun to look more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball-handler, will need to have a big night for Florida. He showed some signs of offensive life with 20 points in Sunday’s loss to North Carolina, shooting the ball well and getting to the line 12 times (making 10) against the Tar Heels. If he can do the same against Mason while simultaneously taking care of the ball, Florida will have a chance at pulling off the big upset.

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Otskey’s Observations: On Duke’s D, Florida’s Struggles & Best Conference…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 2nd, 2014

Throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from across the nation.

Duke’s Defensive Hiatus Is Over

If you’re a Duke basketball fan, you have to be encouraged by your team’s 7-0 start to the 2014-15 campaign. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s top-ranked recruiting class has made, as expected, an immediate impact. Point guard Tyus Jones has been outstanding, averaging a six to one assist to turnover ratio in 27 minutes per game. When you have a steady floor general like Jones who can set up an offense with boatloads of talent, anything is possible offensively for Duke. But what I’d like to discuss is the Blue Devil defense, an area where we have seen the most change since last year’s Duke team was upset by Mercer back in March. Duke’s adjusted defensive efficiency has improved a whopping 101 spots year over year, from No. 116 in 2013-14 to No. 15 so far this year. The Blue Devils are back to being an elite defensive team, a staple of Coach K’s 34-plus year run in Durham. The biggest reason why is the roster turnover. Last year’s team had a non-traditional lineup, starting two 6’8” players and one listed at 6’9”. Specifically, Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker were primarily offense-oriented players who liked to drift out to the perimeter and provided little on the defensive end of the floor. Once opponents were able to get by Duke’s guards, there was little to resist them in the paint. Without a strong front line to defend the basket, the Blue Devils’ interior defense suffered mightily. Duke allowed opponents to shoot 50.3 percent from two point range last season.

Duke's roster turnover has made it better defensively. (Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Duke’s roster turnover has made it better defensively.
(Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Fast forward to the current season and that number has dropped to 45.9 percent as we enter December. That one category is still not elite by any means, but Duke makes up for that by fouling considerably less than it did last year and forcing more turnovers. The result is an overall defense that is night and day from last year. While Jahlil Okafor is more known for his offense, he does provide a more traditional presence in the middle and that alters shots. Duke’s frontcourt that runs 6’6”, 6’9” and 6’11” this season as opposed to last year’s non-traditional lineup makes a big difference defensively. This group has a lot of room still to grow defensively and I expect them to become even better on that end of the floor as the season moves along. You have to have a strong defense to win a national championship and Duke is back to being a contender this year because of it. Last year, we could not say the same despite garnering a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Florida’s Early Season Struggles

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Who Won The Week? Kentucky, Gonzaga and Cal!

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on November 21st, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Kentucky

The #1 Wildcats put in as dominant a performance against a top-five team as I can remember, eviscerating Kansas 72-40 on Tuesday. As many blocks as field goals surrendered? Holding an elite opponent under 20 percent field goal shooting on a neutral court? Sign me up. If this team plays defense together half this good on a nightly basis, it won’t be on the bottom end of a box score very often this season. The beatdown Kentucky put on Kansas completely justifies overlooking the halftime deficit to Buffalo on Sunday, which became a 71-52 win.  This is as no-doubt a winner as I’ve ever had in this column. (Welcome to year three, kids.)

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All-Americans on his roster. (AP)

(Related winners: The nine high-school All-Americans who get to play 20 minutes each a game while playing against the best opposing players in the country in practice every day, getting to boost their abilities and NBA draft stock simultaneously. Related losers: Kansas, because yeesh. Buffalo, because blowing a halftime lead wasn’t nearly as bad as the six-plus feet of blowing snow dropped on their city later in the week – after a win at Texas-Arlington, at least.) Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 21st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The Puerto Rico Tip-off got underway on Thursday, and another opportunity for the SEC to pick up a quality non-conference win went by the wayside as Texas A&M fell to Dayton in the tournament’s opening game. The contest was a back-and-forth affair that the Flyers won on a Devon Scott tip-in with two seconds left. The ugly 55-53 game, in which the Aggies shot 34.6 percent from the field, saw no team take a lead larger than six points. Despite the loss, coach Billy Kennedy got strong performances from his best two returning players, Kourtney Roberson and Alex Caruso. Roberson grabbed 13 first half rebounds on his way to a game-high 15, and scored 12 points to boot. Caruso, a Cousy Award semi-finalist, poured in 17 points to go with five assists. Kennedy, though, had to be disappointed in the lack of production from three newcomers he will need a lot from: Alex Robinson, Jalen Jones, and Peyton Allen. The trio combined for 13 points in 66 minutes of action. If Texas A&M is going to surprise anyone in the SEC, it will need more from that threesome going forward.
  2. After dropping a close game to Miami earlier this week, Florida gets forward Chris Walker back from a three-game suspension for its upcoming game against Louisiana-Monroe. For the Gators to reach their goals this season, Walker will have to be an important piece of the Gators’ roster. He missed the first semester of last season due to academics, and he was only a minor contributor on the team’s run to the Final Four after that. This year, however, much more is expected of him, and coach Billy Donovan is pleased with what he has seen from the sophomore and thinks he is getting more comfortable with the idea of doing the dirty work inside for the Gators.
  3. The college basketball world is still abuzz after Kentucky’s 72-40 dismantling of Kansas on Tuesday night, and the Wildcats return to the court tonight for a home game against Boston University. Much has been made of coach John Calipari‘s platoon system, and it appears to be having a significant effect in the second halves of the Wildcats’ games, as they are simply throttling opponents after the break. Overall, Kentucky currently ranks second in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and first in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Wildcats also lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing over half of their misses. The game against the Terriers is the first of four home games that they should win handily before December brings tougher contests against Texas, North Carolina, UCLA and Louisville.
  4. With the pall of the NCAA mess hanging over him, Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall got his first win as the Volunteers’ head coach Thursday. The 70-58 win over Texas Southern did not come easily, as the game was tied at the half. Josh Richardson, who is being forced to handle the point guard duties because Tyndall has no one else to turn to, led the team in both scoring and rebounding, as the senior netted 19 points and grabbed eight boards. It is impossible to say what will come of the NCAA mess and whether Tyndall’s job truly is in jeopardy or whether this team is being impacted by the situation, but it is hard to imagine there isn’t some effect. Regardless, this is a team that was picked to finish 13th in the SEC even before it was known that Tyndall could be in hot water, and the early returns have shown why.
  5. Bruce Pearl‘s team may have taken one on the chin at Colorado Monday night during the Tip-Off Marathon, but once again, the Auburn coach was able to steer the conversation away from the Tigers’ poor performance. On Wednesday, video of Pearl nailing a trick shot from the upper deck of Auburn Arena emerged, and, as with most of his promotional gimmicks, Pearl entertains. Based on the early play of his team, Pearl has a long year ahead of him on the Plains, but the coach clearly is happy to be back in the game after serving his three-year show cause penalty, and with reinforcements on the way, it is unlikely anything can deter him from having fun.

 

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SEC Season Preview: Florida Gators

Posted by David Changas on November 14th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, concluding today with Florida.

Florida Gators

Strengths. Florida lost four starters from last season’s Final Four team that ran through the SEC with 21 consecutive wins. Still, as long as Billy Donovan is roaming the sidelines in Gainesville, his teams will compete at a high level. And even though the Gators watched as seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete departed the premises, there is anything but a dearth of talent on the roster. The Gators are led by their only returning starter, guard Michael Frazier II, the team’s third-leading scorer who made 44.7 percent of his three-point attempts last season. They also return Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill, who were both solid contributors. But the biggest X-factor for Donovan’s team is forward Chris Walker, the enigmatic sophomore who missed 19 games last season with NCAA issues. Walker’s return was a boon for Florida, but he will need to make a massive leap if the Gators look to make another deep run in March.

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (secsportsinsider.com)

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (secsportsinsider.com)

Weaknesses. As with many college basketball teams in this era, there are a lot of unknowns with this group. The Gators’ roster is heavy on transfers, and thus there is very little returning experience. Alex Murphy is a Duke castoff, and Jon Horford, whose brother Al starred on the back-to-back national championship teams of the last decade, should start, along with former Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who saw limited action early last season. If Walker does not develop as quickly as hoped, and the defense, which is a big preseason concern for Donovan, does not improve as the season progresses, the Gators could be in for a bit of a rough ride. And with the strong leadership of those seniors all graduated, someone else will need to step up and take charge on the floor.

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Kentucky Dominates All-SEC Picks, Tops Preseason Poll

Posted by David Changas on October 23rd, 2014

The SEC held its annual media day on Wednesday, going to the home of the SEC Network in Charlotte for the first time. Along with the usual glass-half-full comments from each team’s coach, the media selected its all-conference teams and predicted the order of finish in the league. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Kentucky was not only picked to win the league, but it also dominated the 10-player preseason all-SEC team. While shooting guard Aaron Harrison was the only Wildcat selected on the first team, the second team included four more Wildcats: Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Harrison, and Alex Poythress. Aaron Harrison, whose late-game heroics sent the Wildcats past Michigan in the Elite Eight and Wisconsin in the Final Four, was chosen as the Player of the Year. Towns, the only freshman to make the first or second team, is a 6’11” center who most expect to be the best of Kentucky’s latest All-America-filled recruiting class. He was ranked fifth in that class by Rivals.com. Florida, which lost a lot of talent from last season’s Final Four squad, put guard Michael Frazier II on the team, and he was joined by Ole Miss’ Jarvis Summers, LSU’s Jordan Mickey, and Arkansas’ Bobby Portis. The only non-Wildcat on the second team was Georgia guard Charles Mann
Preseason SEC Rankings (first-place votes in parentheses)

  1. Kentucky (20) 280
  2. Florida 258
  3. Arkansas 226
  4. LSU 223
  5. Georgia 204
  6. Mississippi 168
  7. Missouri 123
  8. Auburn 113
  9. Texas A&M 111
  10. Alabama 109
  11. Vanderbilt 89
  12. South Carolina 86
  13. Tennessee 75
  14. Mississippi State 35

It goes without saying that preseason all-conference picks mean next to nothing, but, as always, there were a few surprises. Tennessee’s Josh Richardson, who came on strong during the NCAA Tournament, could have been selected, as he will clearly be the Vols’ best player. Likewise, enigmatic Florida forward Chris Walker, who has already been suspended for the first two regular season games, is primed for a breakout season now that he will be a bigger focus of the Gators’ offense. LSU’s Jarell Martin, who received at least one vote for SEC Player of the Year, was a surprising omission. Certainly coaches are glad to have high-quality players left off of the team, as their perceived snubs will serve to motivate them to prove the media wrong.

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SEC M5: 10.17.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on October 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has had a rough week thus far, as the Gators were forced to suspend sophomore forward Chris Walker on Wednesday for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The three-game suspension will force Walker to miss the Gators’ exhibition game against Barry University as well as the regular season’s first two games against William & Mary and cross-state rival Miami. It has been speculated that Walker, who missed a good portion of last season with academic issues, may have violated the school’s drug policy. The Gators also found out they will be without four-star freshman guard Brandone Francis because of his academic shortcomings. Francis is ineligible to practice with the team this fall, but could return to the court in the spring if his performance in school improves.
  2. Despite having two teams in the top 10, it’s no surprise that the SEC is not particularly well-represented in the first preseason USA Today coaches poll. Kentucky tops the list, receiving 24 of the available 32 first-place votes.  Florida checks in at No. 7, and the only other SEC team to even receive votes was Arkansas. Given the league’s lack of national success over the past several years – Kentucky and Florida aside – and so many questions that must be answered by so many teams in the league, the Wildcats and Gators might be the only two schools from the conference who consistently spend time in the poll throughout this season.
  3. It is no secret that Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison often didn’t see eye to eye with coach John Calipari last year, and that his freshman campaign was mostly disappointing. While he redeemed himself in helping the Wildcats make their surprising run to the national championship game, his success there did not erase the shortcomings of the rest of the season. By contrast, CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish thinks Harrison can be a great redemption story this season. While he did not live up to the hype that came with being one of the nation’s most heralded freshman, he has put that disappointment behind him. His first season in Lexington failed to match those of other great point guards who have played under Calipari — players like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, and Brandon Knight — but that doesn’t mean he can’t turn things around this year. By all accounts, Harrison is in better shape than when he arrived in Lexington last August, and has worked hard during the offseason to be ready to raise the overall level of his game. If Kentucky is going to live up to those lofty preseason expectations, he will need to do just that.
  4. The announcement earlier this week that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive will retire in July 2015 received a lot of attention nationally, mostly because of the remarkable job Slive has done in bringing the conference to a level of college football dominance not seen in some time. He is also credited with putting together the fledgling SEC Network, which virtually every cable and satellite provider in the country offers as part of its basic packages. And while there is no questioning the financial success that the league has enjoyed under Slive’s leadership, his relative inability to lead the conference to commensurate success in basketball is certainly worth discussing. Kentucky has been again dominant since Calipari’s arrival in 2009, and Florida has been a perennial top-10 power for over a decade under Billy Donovan’s leadership, but the overall profile of the league has not improved since Slive took the job in 2002. In fact, it could be reasonably argued that it has diminished, and that the league is perceived, now more than ever, of being concerned only with football success. While it obviously would be overly simplistic to put all of that at Slive’s feet, it is fair to direct some criticism his way, especially in light of the great accolades he receives for the conference’s success on the gridiron.
  5. There were plenty of surprises that came with Tennessee‘s unexpected run to the Sweet Sixteen last year, but none was bigger than the emergence of forward Josh Richardson. The defensive stalwart averaged just under 10.0 PPG during the regular season, but his average soared to 19.3 PPG in the team’s four NCAA Tournament games. Now, with most of his running mates from last year’s team as well as his coach having moved on, new coach Donnie Tyndall is leaning heavily on Richardson to lead his young group of Volunteers. It appears the senior forward has taken Tyndall’s admonitions to heart, and while it is unrealistic to expect Tennessee to duplicate its March success this season, if the Volunteers are going to have any real success, they will need Richardson to lead the way on both ends of the floor.
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Morning Five: 10.16.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 16th, 2014

morning5

  1. Like last year, Chris Walker will be watching the start of Florida‘s season from the sidelines. Unlike last year, Walker is only suspended for three games for an unspecified violation of team rules compared with having to sit out the first semester last season due to academic eligibility issues. Speaking of eligibility issues, four-star shooting guard Brandone Francis will have to miss the entire season as he was not approved for collegiate competition by the NCAA Clearinghouse. The loss of Walker should not be a huge issue as he will sit out an exhibition game and two regular-season games (William & Mary and Miami), but Francis’ absence could hurt them in terms of depth in the long-run even if we was only projected to be a reserve guard. If Francis improves his grades enough to become eligible, he could practice with the team in the spring semester even if he cannot play for them.
  2. Mississippi State‘s chances of being competitive in the SEC this year took a big hit with injuries to Craig Sword and Johnny Zuppardo. Sword, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 13.7 points per game last year, is scheduled to undergo surgery on his back today due to a herniated disc and is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks. Zuppardo, a junior college transfer, will be out for the season after suffering a torn meniscus and ACL in his left knee. Although Zuppardo will be out for the entire year and is expected to seek a medical redshirt, Sword should be back in time for the start of SEC play, but his level of fitness at that time could be another issue.
  3. It has been quite a while since we feature a piece by Luke Winn in this column, but with the season rapidly approaching (never fast enough), he teamed up with Dan Hanner (another Morning Five favorite) for a project where they try to predict the top players this upcoming season by simulating the season 10,000 times using models that Hanner has created over the years (think of it as a college basketball Monte Carlo simulation. The project is being revealed in pieces, but so far they have given us their projections for leaders in scoring, rebounding, and assists and who they think the top freshmen will be. As Winn mentions in an accompanying video with David Gardner there are some issues with projecting how good freshmen will be since many times they have played against vastly inferior competition in high school, but it does provide some interesting analysis while we wait for the season to start.
  4. We actually have quite a bit of basketball arena news. The biggest news was the announcement by Arizona that former Wildcat guard Steve Kerr and his wife planned to donate $1 million for McKale Center renovations and upgrades to the academic facility. We are sure that Kerr’s five-year, $25 million contract for his first head coaching job certainly made that $1 million figure a little easier. UCLA, the other traditional power in the Pac-12, might need its own wealthy donor in the near-future for the recently remodeled (at a cost of $136 million) Pauley Pavilion because reports indicate that it is still not ready for play almost 2.5 months after it was flooded. The Bruins have been forced to play in the nearby Student Activities Center, but are expected to be back in Pauley in time for their season-opener, an exhibition against Azusa Pacific on October 31. In Chicago, the plans for DePaul‘s controversial Rosemont-based arena appear to be on schedule with the team expecting to play there starting in 2016-17 season. When the plans were first reported they drew a great deal of criticism because of the arenas distance from the school and the fact that the fan base has been largely apathetic.
  5. Mike Slive’s name might not carry as much weight in the college basketball world as it does in the college football world due to the relative strength of the conference in each sport, but his announcement that he will be retiring on July 31, 2015 to deal with a recurrence of prostate cancer could still be significant for the college basketball world. Slive will continue on as a consultant for the conference which is already beginning its search for his replacement. Even though the conference has been underwhelming on the basketball court (outside of Kentucky and Florida), his departure after 13 years at the helm of the SEC raises the possibility that the next commissioner of the SEC could have ambitions to expand it beyond its current reach and set off another chain reaction of conference realignment.
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Florida’s Dream Season Ends With Final Four Loss to Connecticut

Posted by Walker Carey on April 6th, 2014

One-seed Florida entered the NCAA Tournament as one of several favorites to cut down the nets in North Texas. The Gators had not lost a game since December 2 and had completed a perfect run through the SEC regular season and conference tournament. After a South Region series of games where Billy Donovan’s squad fairly easily dispatched Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Dayton, the Gators’ winning streak stood at 30. Unfortunately for Billy Donovan’s club, their winning ways ended in a 63-53 national semifinal loss to seven-seed Connecticut. The following are three thoughts on a tremendous Florida season that ended a game sooner than expected.

Florida Faltered Tonight But Should Look Back on this Season WIth Heads Held High

Florida Faltered Tonight But Should Look Back on this Season WIth Heads Held High

  1. While the loss to Connecticut will overshadow it, Florida still had an outstanding season. The 30-game winning streak turned in by the Gators before last night’s loss to Connecticut was rightfully one of the top stories of the year in college basketball. Billy Donovan’s senior-laden squad that was led so brilliantly by point guard Scottie Wilbekin flawlessly ran through the SEC with little resistance. A most impressive part of Florida winning all 21 of its games against SEC opponents is that in doing so, the Gators bested preseason number one and fellow Final Four qualifier, Kentucky, three times. This loss to Connecticut will likely be how many choose to define Florida’s season, but that is an unfair notion, because what the Gators were able to accomplish leading up to Saturday was nothing short of magnificent. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Florida Gators

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn have already released. Today: Florida.

Back on December 2, college basketball pollsters would have told you that Florida was the worst of the four teams still standing in this NCAA Tournament. #12 UConn beat the 15th-ranked Gators that night, and both Kentucky (#3) and Wisconsin (#8) rested comfortably among the top 10 teams in the nation. Things have changed quite significantly in the months since. As a result of 30 consecutive victories since that loss in Storrs, Florida now enters the Final Four as the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets, while their three Final Four mates have lost a combined 24 times since the Gators have. It’s been a relentless and astounding string of success for Billy Donovan’s team, but the Gators know that their winning streak will mean far less if it fails to reach 32 games. The ultimate validation is available in North Texas, and Florida appears poised and ready to snatch it.

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Florida, picked to finished second in the SEC in the league preseason poll, began the season with a rather discombobulated roster. Scottie Wilbekin started the year suspended, Chris Walker was ineligible, and newcomers Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and DeVon Walker all missed time due to injuries. There were even times when Billy Donovan didn’t have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage five-on-five in practice, which made the Gators’ 11-2 non-conference record (which included victories over Kansas, Memphis, and Florida State) a good, if not great, beginning to the season. But Florida was just getting started. With Casey Prather emerging out of nowhere as an All-American candidate and Wilbekin shedding character issues to become one of the best two-way floor generals in the country, Florida ripped off 21 straight victories to seize the SEC regular season and Tournament crowns, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Not everything was easy – five of those SEC wins came by five points or fewer – but the Gators posted the most impressive regular season in college basketball this season. They were rightfully awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and entered the Big Dance on a 26-game winning streak.

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Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014

Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.

Florida

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

  • SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
  2. The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
  3. Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.

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