June 16, 2024

Is Florida a legitimate threat to win it all?

The Gators have made it to their first Sweet 16 in two years. Can they continue their success and possibly win it all?

The O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida, sits quietly in anticipation of a game on Dec. 22, 2011. Photo obtained via creativecommons.org, no changes made.

The No. 4 seed Florida Gators (26-8) are one of the few teams in the Sweet 16 this year that has dominated in both of their first two performances.

In the first matchup for the Gators, they played No. 13 seed East Tennessee State (27-8) in Orlando. The game was not going so smoothly for Florida at halftime, as they only led by one point. However, a second half surge by the Gators gave them the win, 80-65. In the first 20 minutes, they were just 1-10 from beyond the arc, but early in the second half they made a string of threes that blew the game wide open. Junior forward Devin Robinson was the game changer as he scored 24 points and added 7 rebounds and a couple of blocks. Senior guard Kasey Hill nabbed double-digit points in his fourth straight game. Hill and junior guard Chris Chiozza combined for 28 points with 11 rebounds and 8 assists.

Florida then prepared for their round of 32 matchup with No. 5 seed Virginia (23-11). This was one of the Gators’ best games of the season. Robinson was once again the focal point as he put up 14 points and 11 rebounds on 5-8 shooting to tally the fourth double-double of his career. Senior forward Justin Leon also scored 14 points and had 10 rebounds in the 65-39 blowout of the Cavaliers. The Florida defense held Virginia to a season-low 17 points in the first half and kept them under 30 percent shooting from the field. A 21-0 run by the Gators late in the first half was the dagger for Virginia. Going into the half, Florida lead by 14, and to start the second half, the Gators scored nine straight points to extend the lead. The Cavaliers had one of their worst shooting performances of the night and Florida had one of their best.

The biggest upside for Florida is the fact that their leading scorer, sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen, and the SEC Sixth Man of the Year, senior guard Canyon Barry, have only combined for 25 points in the past two games. If Robinson continues to accept the leading role for the orange and blue and they manage to get solid performances from Allen and Barry, they pose a serious threat to make a deep run this year. The Gators can most definitely win it all if they continue to clamp down on defense and manage to involve their star players in the offense.

If Florida manages to take care of Wisconsin, they can very likely beat the two possible teams that they will play. The Gators have already beaten the No. 7 seed South Carolina in their most recent meeting and No. 3 seed Baylor looks soft inside and struggled against USC in the round of 32. The Final Four is where Florida will struggle the most, where possible matchups against North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona loom over them. However, if momentum is at all a factor in the tournament, the Gators certainly have some as they have won their past two games in convincing fashion.

Florida now heads into their first Sweet 16 matchup since 2014 against the No. 8 seed Wisconsin Badgers (27-9) Friday night at 10 p.m. on TBS.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image courtesy of Creative Commons

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