NCAA tournament team previews: Florida Gators
As part of its preview of the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team's national rank. For more teams, click here.
Record: 32-2, 18-0 SEC
Adjusted offense / Adjusted defense: 115.8 (15th) / 90.0 (5th)
Seed: No. 1 in South
Impact player: Scottie Wilbekin: 13.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, .396 FG pct.
The Case For:
There isn't just one reason Florida is the No. 1 overall seed and the NCAA tournament favorite – there are many. The last time the Gators lost was on Dec. 2, against then-No. 12 Connecticut. The Gators only had eight players available, and Connecticut still needed an insane buzzer beater to pull off the win. Since then, Florida has rattled off 26 straight wins en route to both the SEC regular season and tournament championships.
The Gators are balanced: Their offense is 17th in adjusted efficiency, per kenpom.com, and their defense ranks fifth. Further in Florida's favor is the tournament experience of its four senior starters, Patric Young, Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete. That group has been to three straight Elite Eights and is eager to get over the hump and into the Final Four. And one of those seniors, Prather, may be the reason that the Gators finally do reach the season's final weekend again. In the past two seasons, Florida has relied heavily on three-point shooting: In 2013, 34.1 percent of its points came from beyond the arc. In 2012, that number was 38.1 percent. This season, it's 29.1 percent. Prather is now the go-to guy in late-game situations, and he won't be chucking bombs as the seconds wind down -- he'll be taking the ball to the lane and finishing at the rim. That difference could help the Gators finish in the Final Four instead of the Elite Eight. Billy Donovan is a lock for the Hall of Fame, and he's a tough out in the NCAA tournament, with a career record of 31-11.
The Case Against:
The Gators aren't perfect, even if their record in this calendar year is. They have just two reliable threats from the perimeter, as Michael Frazier II (45.5 percent) and Wilbekin (40.0 percent) are the only two players to shoot better than 32 percent from deep on the season (minimum of 10 attempts). Further, the long run of wins seemed to be stretching them thin toward the end of the SEC tournament. They escaped but won their final two games (against Tennessee and Kentucky) by a total of just seven points. In the game against Kentucky, another weakness was exposed: Florida is a poor free throw shooting team, averaging 66.2 percent from the charity stripe. That nearly cost the Gators against Kentucky. With less than a minute remaining, both Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith missed the front end of one-and-ones that could have sealed the victory. Instead, Florida was forced to make a final stand defensively. Could free throw shooting cost the Gators in another late-game situation?
SI prediction: National champions. Beat Albany in second round, Pittsburgh in third round, UCLA in Sweet 16, Kansas in Elite 8, Michigan State in Final Four and Wichita State in national title game. View complete bracket predictions from SI.com's panel of experts