Opening up the 2017 NCAA Tournament as the No. 4 seed in the East Region, Florida Gators basketball will begin its journey against an East Tennessee State Buccaneers squad picked by many as an early favorite for an upset in the event. Here’s what you need to know and how you can watch Gators-Bucs.
Event: 2017 NCAA Tournament — East Region, First Round
Location: Amway Center — Orlando, Florida [Capacity: 20,000]
Time: 3:10 p.m. EST
TV: TruTV (Ian Eagle, Steve Lavin, Evan Washburn)
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
|(4) Florida Gators||(13) ETSU Buccaneers|
|Head Coach||Mike White||Steve Forbes|
1. Experience might matter: While there’s no doubt that the Gators have faced a much tougher schedule this season, the Buccaneers do have experience on their side. With an average of 2.02 years, Florida is a relatively young team compared to ETSU, which at 2.52 years is the seventh-most experienced team in the nation. The underdogs also have five seniors on their roster with four of them in the starting lineup. Neither team has played in the NCAA Tournament over the last two seasons (ETSU hasn’t been in the field since 2010), and UF is undoubtedly under more pressure with so many whispers that it is bound for an upset in the first round.
“Everybody’s saying it. I hope it helps our guys, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t care,” said White. “I’ve been part of [an upset loss]. Our guys heard it. They saw it. I don’t know how much they’ll read. I hope none. I hope they crack their phones and throw them in the garbage. Hopefully, it’s a tiny, tiny bit more motivation. I don’t know how much more we need, but we need a ‘W’ in the worst way.”
2. All hands on deck: Though Florida’s defense has fallen off a bit over the last few games, it’s been the Gators’ offense that has truly been an issue. Against a high-scoring team like the Bucs, UF will not be able to rely solely on its ability to protect the rim and turn the ball over. Florida needs its backcourt — specifically sophomore KeVaughn Allen and graduate transfer Canyon Barry — to put points on the board with both players contributing and not one carrying the load for the other. The Gators had no choice but to spend their extended preparation time figuring out how to put up more points despite their personnel loss, which has affected spacing and ball movement from what was once a quite efficient offense.
“We went back to the drawing board,” explained junior forward Devin Robinson. “We knew that right now we know coming in here, we have to pick everything back up. We know, and we understand it’s win or go home. So we got our backs against the wall, and we can’t worry about what happened in the past. Just move forward and get another winning streak going right now.”
Robinson continued: “We had a meeting as the team and the staff to basically get everything out, put everything on the table like we have when we lost two games in a row and just knew we had to recollect as a team and get to the root of what was going on and figure out that, if we’re going to keep playing like this, we’re going to end our season short.”
3. Don’t discount the environment: There’s going to be fans from every team participating in the Orlando pod with tickets to Thursday’s game, but there should be no question that the Gators will have the strongest contingent with the games being played in Central Florida. That type of support in what could otherwise be a challenging environment will play an important role for Florida, particularly if the game is close.
“We’re really excited to see Gator Nation out in full force,” said Barry. “Can’t thank them enough for all their support. Just tell them to get loud.” Added senior point guard Kasey Hill: “I’m excited they’re coming, but I don’t want it to be a thing where we’re comfortable and think we can depend on them. We’ve got to go out there and execute and be ready to play.”
Spread: Florida -10 | O/U: 149
ETSU is one of the most popular first-round upset picks because it scores a lot of points and moves the ball with ease. But here’s the truth: The Bucs also turn the ball over at the will of their opponents and are going up against a top-five defense in the nation.
The Gators have kept up with high-scoring teams all season, and perhaps most importantly, limited all but two opponents this season below their season scoring average. Plus, Florida is coming into this game angry after being embarrassed in consecutive contests against Vanderbilt. The Gators have not lost to a team outside the top 50 RPI this season; the Bucs are currently 55th.
UF is going to win White’s first career NCAA Tournament game a coach. The Gators have won four straight first-round games in this event. This team has missed the Big Dance in consecutive seasons and is hungry — and plenty motivated — to get it done. Ultimately, ETSU will not have the horses to keep up with Florida for 40 minutes in the Gators’ backyard.
Most experts are not picking this game because the spread and total are just right. Since we don’t have that luxury, let’s take Florida to cover and this score to stay under the total.
2016 records: ATS picks 4-3 | O/U picks 6-1
» Out for season: C John Egbunu
» Florida is 4-0 all-time against ETSU with the teams’ meetings all coming on and before 1980. UF is also 20-12 all-time against SoCon opponents.
» The Gators are 39-15 in 17 prior NCAA Tournament appearances, 9-1 in games played in the state of Florida. UF is 12-5 in first-round games with four straight opening round victories.
» UF is 1-4 against AP Top 25 teams this season and 2-11 against such opponents under White. Florida is 43-11 against unranked opponents over the last two seasons with back-to-back losses.
» Not counting Senior Night, the Gators have only used two starting lineups all season with four of their five players starting every game to this point. However, nine different players have led UF in scoring through 32 games.
» Six of the 14 players on Florida’s roster were either not on the team or did not step on the court during the 2015-16 season.
» The Gators are 39-10 under White when scoring 70 points or more and 30-6 when giving up 69 points or fewer.
» Florida’s nine-game winning streak was its longest since winning 30 in a row during the 2013-14 campaign.
» Only two teams (Auburn, Vanderbilt) reached or eclipsed its season scoring average during regulation against UF. In the game against the Tigers, the Gators set a program scoring mark with 114 points.