Conference: SEC (At-Large)
Record: 24-8 (14-4)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 4 (East)
How they got to the Big Dance
Florida started the season with five straight wins, one of them a top-50 RPI win. The Gators topped Seton Hall 81-76 before they faced Gonzaga. Florida took a five-point lead into halftime, finally losing the lead with 10 minutes left in the second half in a back and forth battle. From then on, it was all Gonzaga, and the Bulldogs won 77-72 in Orlando. The loss was followed by another top-50 RPI win over Miami. Two challenging games against Duke and Florida State were next on the schedule. The Gators dropped both, losing by 10 to Duke and by five to the in-state rival Seminoles.
The Gators began conference play with another five-game winning streak, one of those coming against Arkansas. Florida then lost two straight by a combined seven points to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. It bounced back with nine straight wins, including a 22-point home victory over Kentucky. The Wildcats snapped that streak when Florida came to town with a 10-point win. Florida rounded out conference play with a 13-point win at home over Arkansas and two-point loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville.
A 14-4 record in the SEC earned Florida a two seed in the SEC Tournament, where it met Vanderbilt for a third time and lost in overtime. The Gators boast a strong tournament resume, with zero losses coming to teams outside of the top 50 in RPI, although they are just 3-4 against teams in the top 25 of RPI.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
Florida has one of the best defenses in the SEC, if not the country, with an adjusted defensive efficiency ranked fourth by KenPom.com. The Gators also allow just 66.6 points per game and limit their opponents to a 40.7 percent mark from the field. Their defense showed some muscle against one of the nation’s best offenses in Kentucky, limiting the Wildcats to just 66 points when they average 86.1 points per game. The loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament definitely hurt the Gators’ seeding, so they will need their defense to show up against higher-seeded teams. The Gators also benefit from a strong bench, which is crucial in the tournament. Eight Gators log more than 15 minutes per game and score six or more points per game.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
Florida lacks a strong frontcourt. The Gators have one player taller than 6-foot-9 that averaged more than 10 minutes per game and that is John Egbunu, who was ruled out for the season after tearing his ACL in mid-February. The team has gone 3-3 in his absence. This hurts them on the boards, as they rank 94th in rebounds per game with 37.3. Their rebounding margin sits at +2, which is good for 120th in the country. Should they see a team with a lot of big men that can clean up on the glass, the Gators will be in trouble.
Player to watch: F Kevarrius Hayes
The 6-foot-9 sophomore has needed to step up in Egbunu’s absence. He’s played just above 23 minutes per game since Egbunu was sidelined, while pulling in 6.3 rebounds and scoring 5 points per game. The Gators will need him to be a force on the inside to open up the floor and give the team more scoring opportunities. He has only scored above 10 points in four games this season, but Florida has won each of those games. The Gators are also 11-2 whenever Hayes grabs five or more rebounds in a game, the two losses coming to Duke and Vanderbilt. If Hayes can emerge as a force down low, expect Florida to scrap together some wins.
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