No. 4 Florida stifles No. 5 Virginia to earn spot in Sweet 16

1:25 | College Basketball
The Unexpected Perk of Winning March Madness
Sunday March 19th, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. — To translate what happened Saturday for the football fans who only follow basketball during the NCAA tournament, Virginia-Florida was the equivalent of an option team falling behind by three touchdowns at the half to an Air Raid team. It even produces a similar final score. Here are three points from the Gators’ 65–39 win.

1. Mike White has proven himself a capable replacement for Billy Donovan at Florida

The Gators will advance to the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2014, when they reached the Final Four. They did that with a future Hall of Famer coaching them, but White seems to have settled in comfortably in year two. He stresses defense, and it showed when Florida smothered the Cavaliers for most of the shot clock on most possessions.

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The Gators held Virginia to 29.6% from the floor and 1 of 15 from three-point range while outrebounding them 36–32. Florida players shook off crushing off-the-ball screens and kept guarding. They also ran an efficient halfcourt offense. The Gators scored only two fast break points; everything else came running their offense. Junior forward Devin Robinson looked like the player who was promised when he signed with the Gators, scoring 14 points—with a mix of slashing drives and deep shots—and grabbing 11 rebounds. Justin Leon, Florida’s other 6'8" stretch forward, scored 14 and grabbed 10 rebounds.

2. Virginia’s style can produce a lopsided deficit when shots don’t fall

The downside to playing a slow, grinding style is that when the opponent defends capably for 30 seconds on each trip down the floor and then executes in its halfcourt offense—with a few fast breaks thrown in for good measure—a team tends to get obliterated. Saturday’s result provided more evidence for the critics who believe that Tony Bennett’s preferred style is fine for the regular-season but incompatible with deep tournament runs. (This criticism is debatable; Virginia reached the Elite Eight last year.)

What happened Saturday is what happened to Virginia in all its worst games this season. The Cavaliers lacked go-to scorers who could hit clutch shots in the waning seconds of the shot clock. Malcolm Brogdon was that player last year, but no one emerged to claim the role this season. Saturday, leading scorer London Perrantes shot 1 of 7 in the first half.

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After Florida’s Kevarrius Hayes threw down a dunk to close the first half and extend Florida’s lead to 14, Bennett exchanged a shrug with assistant Jason Williford as they walked off the court. When the Gators’ Justin Leon hit a three-pointer with 17:39 remaining to cap a 21–0 Florida run that extended the Gators’ lead to 40–17, Bennett called timeout and hung his head.

3. Anything can happen now

The Gators advance to face No. 8 seed Wisconsin in New York on Friday. The Badgers’ win Saturday against Villanova sets up an intriguing Sweet 16 matchup—with the possibility of Duke or Baylor waiting in the Elite Eight.

After shutting down Virginia’s offense, Florida now must find a way to slow Ethan Happ and a resurgent Nigel Hayes. Meanwhile, Florida’s Robinson must find a way to continue his hot streak. In two NCAA tournament games, he’s scored 38 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.

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