Florida is in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2014, a year in which they made it to the Final Four.
The Gators’ Elite Eight matchup? The South Carolina Gamecocks, a team Florida is awfully familiar with. It’ll be the third meeting this season between Florida and South Carolina, who defeated Baylor 70-50 to advance to the Elite Eight.
In the first meeting, South Carolina won 57-53 in Columbia. Florida bounced back in the rematch, defeating the Gamecocks 81-66 at home.
Florida kicked off the tournament with an 80-65 win over East Tennessee State, a team some experts thought would upset the short-handed Gators. In the round of 32, Florida destroyed Virginia 65-39 to advance to the Sweet 16 where they beat eight-seed Wisconsin 84-83.
Here’s why Florida can win three more games and win the big dance.
Long and Athletic
Eight of the players on Florida’s 14-man roster are 6 feet 8 inches or taller, and most of them have long arms to match. The Gators’ length allows them to clog up opponent’s passing lanes, making it difficult to run an offensive set. Deflections turn into turnovers and turnovers turn into points. Florida isn’t just long and lanky, though. It’s one of the most athletic teams in the country. With their combination of length and athleticism, playing the Gators is a nightmare.
KeVaughn Allen enters the Elite Eight coming off a career-high 35 points against Wisconsin, which is the most points ever scored by a Gator in tournament history. Allen was having a rough tournament until the second half of the game against the Badgers. Against South Carolina, the Gators will need Allen. If history repeats itself, Allen will do just that. Allen had 26 points and seven rebounds in Florida’s win over South Carolina earlier this season.
Senior guard Kasey Hill lines up alongside Allen, forming one of the best backcourt duos in the tournament. Hill is averaging 9.8 points and 4.6 assists per game. While he may not be putting up huge numbers, Hill contributes in other ways through his leadership.
Canyon Barry, known for his granny shots from the free throw line, is averaging 12.1 points per game. Devin Robinson, the Gators’ key cog in the paint, is averaging 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Florida’s defense has made the difference for the Gators this March. While the Gators play a free-flowing brand of basketball with an emphasis on ball movement, their defense is what gets the team going. Florida does a great job of turning their defense into offense by turning rebounds and blocked shots into fast break opportunities. It’s a fun brand of basketball to watch when it’s clicking.
Against Wisconsin, Florida forced the Badgers into 16 turnovers and compiled seven blocks. The Gators’ top-50 defense is allowing 66.2 points per game, blocking 4.8 shots per game and forcing 14.97 turnovers per game.
Florida has stood stall during crunch time this tournament.
After struggling for most of the matchup, Barry made one of the greatest plays in Gators basketball history to spark the team. Wisconsin’s Khalil Iverson had a breakaway layup with under a minute remaining in overtime that would have increased the Badgers’ lead to four and would have all but put the game away. Barry managed to chase Iverson down and block his shot, allowing the ball to go the other way and set up a Chris Chiozza layup that tied the game.
Without Barry’s block, Chiozza would have never hit one of the greatest shots in program history. Four seconds were left on the clock when Chiozza took the inbounds pass and proceeded to go the length of the floor and hit a 3-pointer to beat Wisconsin and send the Gators to the Elite Eight.
Florida could have crumbled when the Badgers came back to send the game into overtime. The loss of star center John Egbunu could have hampered their season, but they didn’t allow it. The Gators play with a contagious energy and a strong confidence. They don’t shy away from the moment and they lay it all out on the floor. Between their talent and heart, the Gators are as a good a bet as anyone to win the big dance.
Edited by Quinn Pilkey