Continuing its journey in the 2017 NCAA Tournament as the No. 4 seed in the East Region, Florida Gators basketball will look to advance to the Sweet 16 for its fifth straight appearance in the Big Dance when it takes on the defensive-minded No. 5 seed Virginia Cavaliers. Here’s what you need to know and how you can watch Gators-Cavs.
Event: 2017 NCAA Tournament — East Region, Second Round
Location: Amway Center — Orlando, Florida [Capacity: 20,000]
Time: 8:40 p.m. EST
TV: TNT (Ian Eagle, Steve Lavin, Evan Washburn)
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
|(4) Florida Gators||(5) Virginia Cavaliers|
|Head Coach||Mike White||Tony Bennett|
1. Expect some bruises: Saturday’s game will be a hard-fought contest with Florida and Virginia boasting two of the nation’s top-five defenses. The Gators have held opponents under their season scoring average in 31 of 33 games, while the Cavaliers and their “Pack-Line” defense hold opponents 56.1 points per game. Florida’s speed and length usually get the best opponents, but Virginia is able to counter that with a tough man-to-man defense that thrives on funneling opponents into the paint and thwarting their action inside the arc. That’s an area in which the Gators have struggled as of late anyway when you combine the absence of their starting center with the inability of their starting point guard to finish around the rim when contested.
“What jumps out [about Virginia]? Just how sound and disciplined they are. Tony is one of the best in the business. He’s done an amazing job up there,” White said. “They’re just extremely consistent. They play within themselves offensively. They’re very, very skilled. And then defensively, it’s a beautiful thing. They just don’t make mistakes. They sit down in the stance and shut you out.
“… I’d like to credit our guys. Our guys have really defended well. We’re a very, very good defensive team in our own right. Hopefully, it’s a game down the stretch where we can find ways to score it against their prolific D a little better than they can score against ours.”
Bennett shared a similar sentiment when discussing the defense of both teams. “Florida is terrific defensively, and the numbers bear that out. They spread out and slide, and they’re good defensively with their length,” he said. “… Our defense is really a team-oriented system, and it’s about being more continuous than perhaps is natural for a lot of guys. … You’ve got to be good off the ball. You have to have stance and vision all the time. You have to learn, instead of being reactionary, you’ve got to be able to anticipate.”
2. Contrast of styles: While both teams enter Saturday’s game with a focus on defense, there is an absolute difference in their styles of offense. Virginia is methodical, actually rated as the slowest team nationally, while Florida uses its speed and length to keep opponents on their toes and force extra possessions. The Gators will need to do just that on Saturday to combat the Cavs’ tough defense with efficiency scoring in transition being of prime importance. To accomplish this, Florida must ensure its players stay out of foul trouble and also get contributions beyond the arc from its top three-point shooters in guards sophomore KeVaughn Allen and graduate transfer Canyon Barry, who in particular needs to step up his game in the NCAA Tournament.
“We try to get out in transition as much as we can, and that starts with our defense,” said junior point guard Chris Chiozza. “They’re a great defensive team, and they’re good, an efficient team on offense as well. So we’re going to force them into tough shots, get those rebounds and get out in transition before they get their halfcourt defense set up.”
3. Can Florida hit 70? The Gators are 40-10 under White when scoring 70 points in a game. Virginia has only allowed three opponents to do so in regulation this season. With most of UVA’s games falling in the 50s or 60s, UF’s ability to hit the 70 mark — or come close to it — would likely mean a victory for the Gators.
“What makes them good? Everything. They’re so sound. Year in and year out, they’re in the top five in defensive efficiency in the country, which would put them in the argument to be the best defensive program in college basketball. They make you play differently,” White explained. “We’re a team that has had success in transition offense in space, in the open floor, off of turnovers. They don’t turn the ball over. And we’re a team that struggled at times in the halfcourt, and we’re going to have to score in the halfcourt.
“Obviously, we’re going to try to score in transition. I don’t know how many opportunities will be there. They’re extremely physical. They’re extremely sound and disciplined. They’re a strong team. They’re a quick-footed team. They move great laterally. They’ve got good length. They block shots at the rim. There’s not a deficiency defensively.”
Spread: Florida -1 | O/U: 125
Talk about an even matchup. Florida and Virginia enter Saturday’s game respectively ranked fourth and second nationally in defense as well as 29th and 37th in offense. The Gators and Cavaliers are both top-10 teams as rated by KenPom.com, and the only massive difference between the teams is the tempo at which they play with UVA being the slowest-moving team in the nation.
The truth is that this game can go either way. It’s a literal toss-up. Florida and Virginia are each long teams, though the Gators have more experience with seniors and juniors seeing most of the on-court minutes. It’s truly difficult to pick this game but with UF used to playing down a starter and UVA still figuring how to get by without its leading rebounder, there is a slight advantage to the Gators, which also have the benefit of playing in front of a friendly crowd in Orlando. (The team did say it gave them a boost in the second half of the first round game.)
Let’s go with Florida and the over as the Gators’ speed on offense should force extra possessions that the Cavs are not used to in games.
2016-17 records: ATS picks 5-3 | O/U picks 7-1
» Out: F Isaiah Wilkins (Virginia, illness)
» Out for season: C John Egbunu (Florida, knee)
» Florida is 1-1 all-time against Virginia, earning a 71-45 win in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. UF is 1-0 all-time against Bennett-coached teams due to that same victory.
» The Gators are 40-15 in 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, 10-1 in games played in the state of Florida. UF is 9-3 in second-round games with six straight victories in the Round of 32. It improved to 13-5 in first-round games with five straight victories on Thursday.
» UF is 1-4 against AP Top 25 teams this season and 2-11 against such opponents under White. Florida is 44-11 against unranked opponents over the last two seasons.
» 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 33 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 40-10 under White when scoring 70 points or more and 31-6 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.