Expectations, maturity, confidence fuel (1) Florida

(1) Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin and senior center Patric Young met with the media on Friday less than 36 hours before competing against the (7) Connecticut Huskies in the Final Four of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, TX. Saturday’s semifinal game is set for 6:09 p.m. and scheduled to air live on TBS and TNT.

EXPECTATIONS, MATURITY, CONFIDENCE

Early in Donovan’s press conference on Friday, he was actually asked by a reporter whether he’s ever had to deal with the same expectations heading into a season that Kentucky did due to its heralded recruiting class. Donovan actually answered the absurd question, obviously noting that Florida had insanely high expectations heading into the 2007 season as defending national champions. “Our whole starting five came back off a National Championship and we started preseason No. 1 and we had to deal with that,” he said.

The question led to another, much-better one, however, as Donovan went on to explain his recruiting philosophy and whether he actively searches for players that plan to stay three or four years as opposed to one-and-done talent. As he has in the past, Donovan dismissed the notion that he does not like one-and-done players but did expand on his thoughts about the subject.

“I get asked this a lot. I cannot, as a coach, forecast a player’s future,” he began to explain.

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National media sleeping on (1) Florida no longer

Ranked No. 1 overall in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the Florida Gators began receiving long-awaited but much-deserved press when event started two weeks ago but has understandably seen its national media coverage double over the last few days while ramping up to play in its first Final Four since 2007.

Below are a few must-read and must-view national articles, videos and pictures relating to the Gators from the last few days.

CBS Sports: Billy Donovan redefining Gators, evolving as a coach

Florida has gone from looking like a future NBA team to looking like a mid-major deluxe, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. The one-and-done thing works for John Calipari at Kentucky. The mid-major thing works for Gregg Marshall at Wichita State. Donovan is somewhere in the middle, getting the occasional superstar recruit like Young or Bradley Beal but surrounding those guys with pieces that are brimming with character and growth.

And in doing so, Billy Donovan hasn’t redefined just the Florida basketball program. He has redefined the Florida basketball coach.

SportsCenter conversation with Billy Donovan

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Donovan, Wilbekin, Ollie talk Final Four, provide perspectives on college basketball

(1) Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan and senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin met with the media on Thursday the day after teams arrived in Arlington, TX and started the lead up to the Final Four of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Joining Donovan on the podium was (7) Connecticut Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie. All three discussed their seasons to this point, college basketball in general and Saturday’s semifinal game, which is set for 6:09 p.m. and scheduled to air live on TBS and TNT.

IT’S ALL ABOUT DEPTH, BABY

The Gators and Huskies will enter AT&T Stadium on Saturday with arguably the two deepest teams in the remaining field of four, but it is a different kind of depth that both coaches were asked about on Thursday.

Though the space behind the hoop is a bit open in every arena, fans create a bit of a background image that shooters are used to when judging the distance of the basket and how hard they need to shoot the ball. Playing in a huge stadium like the one in Arlington takes away the fan-made background and replaces it with open space that players have to adjust to.

Neither Donovan nor Ollie were concerned much with the scenario even though in Florida’s case it appeared to be a major issue just last season when UF went 6-for-25 from beyond the arc in two games at then-Cowboys Stadium.

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Donovan prepares (1) Florida for Final Four as themes surround showdown with (7) UConn

Head coach Billy Donovan and a couple players spoke with the media on Monday, two days before the (1) Florida Gators (36-2) left for Arlington, TX to prepare for their Final Four game against the (7) Connecticut Huskies (30-8). The 2014 NCAA Tournament semifinal is set for 6:09 p.m. on Saturday and scheduled to air live on TBS and TNT.

REMATCH

It’s not often a team goes 36-2 heading into the Final Four, let alone with that program being on a 30-game winning streak and somehow being provided with the opportunity to avenge one of those two losses on its way to a potential national title game.

That is the chance Florida has ahead of it Saturday, though Donovan does not necessarily believe that the two teams having squared off earlier this season does anything more than help both coaching staffs with scouting and preparation.

“It gives you at least a reference point of what you’re dealing with there,” he said. “I think that that from a preparation standpoint for both teams, both teams kind of know each other. We’re not in the same league. We’ve played each other once. It was a long time ago, early December, but the game was played, and both teams were out there competing, and both teams have an idea of size, length, speed, quickness.”

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin concurred.

“The game was such a long time ago. It feels like it was forever,” he said. “They’re playing their best basketball now, and I feel like we’re doing the same. That’s what you have to be in this position, to be in the Final Four. I don’t expect anything less than for them to play their best game.”

Perhaps the most important thing coming from that Dec. 2, 2013 game was that both teams were able to learn from the contest. UF has used its loss to improve its teamwork and basketball IQ, while UConn has referred to its victory during the latter portion of the season, building confidence from the big win.

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(1) Florida Gators sharpshooter Michael Frazier II improving team by stepping up his game

It is no surprise that (1) Florida Gators sophomore guard Michael Frazier II was visibly frustrated playing against (15) Albany in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, a contest he would like to forget aside from the result.

Though the Gators won 67-55 and advanced in the event, the Great Danes showed dogged determination to eliminate Frazier from Florida’s game plan and take away the team’s most efficient offensive weapon.

Frazier, coming off a nomination to the 2014 SEC All-Tournament team for draining two-thirds of his triples (10-of-15) in a three-game span, went just 1-for-4 from long range and scored in single digits for just the 12th time in 38 games this season.

But head coach Billy Donovan was not dismayed by Frazier’s lack of production. Rather, he was impressed that Frazier continued to play with grit and did not get down even though he followed up that contest with a lackluster 2-for-9 showing from downtown two days later in what was still a 61-45 win over (9) Pittsburgh.

“We have nothing to do with what a team tries to take away from us,” Donovan explained. “Would I like Michael Frazier to knock down five, six, seven threes a game? That would be great for us. But sometimes the defense has something to do with that. If they are taking him away, the maturity thing we need to understand what else is open.

“Sometimes that is the greatest sign of respect for a player is when they try to take you out of the game. Some teams tried to do that to Michael, but we’ve still been able to move on and advance by doing different things.”

The fact that Frazier has adopted this mindset is one of the reasons that the Gators have been so effective even when he’s not putting the ball in the bottom of the net from beyond the arc. He has learned to play with pride even if he’s not shooting the ball well or failing to get off his preferred number of attempts any given night.

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Details for Turner’s Florida Gators-centric Final Four Teamcast announced

Fans of the (1) Florida Gators looking for a more unique, team-specific broadcast of their Final Four game against the (7) Connecticut Huskies on Saturday are in luck as Turner on Tuesday officially announced the final details of its 2014 NCAA Tournament “Teamcasts,” which will air simultaneously on TNT and truTV, respectively, as the main broadcast of each game airs live on TBS.

While veteran play-by-play man Jim Nantz will be joined by color analysts Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr, as well as courtside reporter Tracy Wolfson, on the national TBS broadcast, the Florida Teamcast will air on TNT featuring David Steele as the gamecaller, Mark Wise on color and James Bates courtside.

Steele, a former UF football play-by-play voice, is currently the television lead for the Orlando Magic, while Wise and Bates both have closer ties to the Gators from their extensive work with Sun Sports and the Gator Radio Network.



The primary feed of the game action will mostly remain the same, but the broadcast will be tailored to Florida with camera angles, replays, graphics, in-game statistics and analysis all coming from a Gators point of view.

TNT will also air Florida-centric Final Four pre-game, halftime and post-game shows.

OnlyGators.com spoke Tuesday afternoon with Bates, who is currently employed by FOX Sports and excited that the network is allowing him him to participate in this unique broadcast despite the fact that it is airing on a competitive channel.

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Often overlooked, freshman PG Kasey Hill coming on at perfect time for (1) Florida Gators

For as successful as the (1) Florida Gators have been this season – holding a 36-2 record, sweeping the Southeastern Conference titles, winning 30-straight games, not losing a game in four full months (as of Wednesday) – nearly all of the credit has gone to head coach Billy Donovan and the team’s four-member senior class.

Yet while those five men are certainly the catalysts for Florida’s fantastic season, which to this point has been the best in program history, they are not the only ones making major contributions to the Gators’ success.

Consider for a moment that freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who has played two fewer games and been on the court 431 fewer minutes than senior Scottie Wilbekin, has accumulated 100 assists on the season, just 22 less than the veteran starter.

He averages a half of an assist less per game (3.7-3.2) in 11.7 fewer minutes and leads Florida in assists per 40 minutes (5.8-4.4). While on the floor, Hill assists on 27.6 percent of made field goals, while Wilbekin only participates in 22.5 percent of his teammates.

While Wilbekin’s clutch shooting, stellar defense and ball protection are differentiators that speak to how important he has been for the Gators all season, Hill’s ability to share the ball and speed up tempo with his blazing speed are often overlooked factors when it comes to UF’s success.

“I think he adds a lot to us, especially now at the end of the year. He’s just gotten better as the year’s went on,” said Wilbekin of Hill when discussing the freshman on Monday. “He’s really playing at his best right now, getting in the lane, playing better defense, finding guys. It just adds a lot to our team.”

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Florida still likeliest champ entering Final Four

Statistician Nate Silver, who nailed the 2012 presidential race and has earned well-deserved praise for his rigorous statistical analyses, updated his probabilities for the remainder of the 2014 NCAA Tournament on Sunday evening and came away with even better news for fans of the (1) Florida Gators hoping to see their team win its third national championship – first since 2007.

Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com model projects that Florida now has a 38.4 percent chance to win the national title (+20.0 percent*), making it the overall favorite in the Final Four. (2) Wisconsin (31.2 percent), (8) Kentucky (19.1 percent) and (7) UConn (11.3 percent) round out the remainder of the field.

The Gators have a 69.9 percent probability to take down the Huskies in their Final Four showdown at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX on Saturday at 6:09 p.m., according to Silver, while the Badgers have a 58.2 percent chance to defeat the Wildcats later that evening on the other side of the bracket.

Florida (36-2) has the nation’s longest active winning streak at 30 games.

Check out the methodology Silver has consistently used to make his NCAA predictions.

* Percent change based on original probability projections before tournament began.

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