Can’t sugar-coat it, Dayton faces its stiffest challenge of the tournament tomorrow in Memphis. With a chance at the Final Four, the Flyers get matched up with the hottest team in the nation, the Florida Gators. UD goes into this game as double-digit dogs, with many expecting a complete blowout.
As a Flyer fan, what more can you ask for? A chance to get to the Final Four against yet another college basketball blue-blood. There’s no backing into Texas, and that goes for Florida as much as it does Dayton. If Florida does in fact advance tomorrow night, I guarantee UD is going to make them earn it.
The last team the Flyers were in the Elite Eight facing a #1 seed was back in 1984, a twelve point loss to Georgetown. Here’s hoping history doesn’t repeat.
Florida came into this tournament as the odds-on favorite to cut down the nets. Winners of twenty-nine games in a row, the Gators earned the #1 overall seed in the field after running roughshod through the SEC. What Billy Donovan’s team lacks in depth, the Gators go around eight deep, they make up in experience. UF starts four seniors, one of the winningest classes in Gator history.
Although Florida plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation, frequently running the shot clock into the red, the Gators are efficient as a German jailer. UF is excellent defensively (opponents are averaging a scant .89 points per possession) and are solid on the boards. Florida allows just 57.8 points per game and has one of the lowest turnover rates of any team in the tournament field.
The Gators struggle from the line, shooting 66% from the stripe as a team, an ongoing issue that will hopefully rear its head during tomorrow night’s contest. Florida is a more-talented Ohio State, they excel on the defensive end but oftentimes experience offensive lapses that keep their opponents in the game. Once again, UD will have to come out and knock down shots out of the gate — just like they’ve done in their previous three games.
Meet and Greet
No team relies on a player more than the Gators lean on Scottie Wilbekin (13.1 ppg/3.8 apg/2.5 rpg). Florida’s half-court offense is dependent on Wilbekin’s ball-handling and penetration. Almost every UF half-court possession begins with the ball in his hands. The senior guard sports a 2.2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and is a solid perimeter shooter. We will probably see Kyle Davis get a shot at guarding Wilbekin if the Gator offense is running too effectively. Additionally, Wilbekin is Florida’s best on-ball defender, he spent time guarding a much-taller Kyle Anderson in last night’s win over the Bruins. Michael Frazier (12.7 ppg/3.6 rpg/45% 3fg) will start along Wilbekin in the backcourt and is Florida’s best outside shooter. Frazier connected on five threes in UF’s victory over UCLA and is usually the catalyst of a Gator scoring run.
Florida’s frontcourt is composed of black Adonises — if this was the “bad ol’ days” these three men would fetch a pretty penny. Casey Prather (13.9 ppg/4.9 rpg/40% 3fg) is the Gators’ leading scorer, a slasher who rebounds well on both ends of the court. Prather is a matchup issue for most teams — with the capability to hit from the outside or take the ball to the basket. Patric Young (10.8 ppg/6.2 rpg) is a physical presence down low, and much better offensively than most give him credit for. Will Yeguete (4.9 ppg/5.2 rpg) rounds out the Gator frontcourt. The Frenchman is an energy guy, solid around the hoop offensively and defensively.
Dorian Finney-Smith (8.8 ppg/6.6 rpg/2.0 apg) is the best reserve on the Gator roster. The 6’8″ Virginia Tech transfer is a versatile player and essentially gets starter minutes. Kasey Hill (5.5 ppg/3.2 apg) is a pass-first guard, a freshman with the ability to push the pace. DeVon Walker (2.5 ppg/1.2 rpg) rounds out the Gator bench.
Fuck it, no need for predictions at this point. Let’s keep this train rolling on down to Texas.