If it wasn’t already obvious through their first two tournament wins, the Florida Gators are a team to keep an eye on during the rest of March Madness. They posess all of the necessary tools needed to win it all. While they don’t have players who are locked-in lottery picks, what they do have is a veteran core that fills out their starting lineup. Mix that with a coach who is a two-time national champion and you have the formula for postseason success.
Here are five reasons why Florida will make it to this year’s Final Four.
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At the forefront of the Gators attack is a trio of guards that still reminds us of the Villanova backcourt from ’06. Senior guards Kenny Boynton (12.3 points per game) and Mike Rosario (12.3), along with junior floor general Scottie Wilbekin (5.0 assists per game), form a dynamic backcourt that is ready to lead Florida to the promised land. Add in a frontline bolstered by 6-10 senior Erik Murphy (leading scorer at 12.6 points) and 6-9 junior Patric Young (10.3 points a night), and you have a veteran starting lineup who has been to the Elite Eight in back-to-back seasons.
Florida struggled somewhat towards the end of this season, going 4-3 in their last seven, but still managed to win the SEC regular season title. That sounds strangely familiar: the Gators went 4-6 in their last 10 contests before catching lightning in a bottle and heading to the Elite Eight last year.
Erik Murphy poses matchup problems for opposing big men as the lengthy forward/center from South Kingston, Rhode Island can frequently knock it down from the perimeter. The 6-10 senior is leading the blue-and-orange in three-point shooting percentage this season, shooting over a scorching 46 percent on 156 attempts. Murphy, along with Young, who is shooting over 60 percent from the field, put together a frontcourt duo that places the Gators among the top of the nation in field goal percentage (eighth).
KEEPING IT HOT
Not only is Florida at the top of Division I this season in shooting, but the team averaged 15.0 assists per game, good for first in the SEC and 33rd in the nation. While a third of those assists are credited to junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, the Gators have the luxury of leaning on guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario to share the point guard responsibilities. With four players averaging double-figures and one other starter (Wilbekin) not too far behind, Billy Donovan’s club shares the rock both effectively and efficiently as any of his five seasoned veterans have the ability to lead the Gators in scoring on any given night.
THE DIRTY SOUTH
Looking at the remaining three opponents in the South Region, they’re simply aren’t many programs that matchup well with Florida. Looking ahead, the Gators won’t see their toughest matchup until/if they see Kansas in the Elite Eight. But after dropping three straight to unranked opponents (including TCU) before the tournament started, and then needed someone to check their pulse at halftime of their win over North Carolina, the Jayhawks do not possess an intimidating presence. If the Gators can get shotblocker Jeff Withey into foul trouble early and find an answer for Ben McLemore, look for Florida to be dancing in Atlanta.
BILLY THE KID
Anytime you have a coach who has won back-to-back NCAA titles, the odds are in your favor. After pumping out a plethora of pro talent over the years, Billy is back at it again with a squad that includes a few guys with NBA potential. Donovan knows what it takes to make it as he’s been to the Final Four as both a coach and a player. With the Gators hanging their hat on the defensive end as the third-best in the nation in points allowed (53.7 per contest), Donovan’s strong leadership will insure that the Gators keep playing throughout March. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to realize why the Magic offered him $27.5 million to take over the reins in Orlando back in 2007.
If his group can take care of the ball and control tempo, don’t be surprised if you catch him in the ATL with a potential national championship matchup looming versus his mentor Rick Pitino and Louisville.
Which team is making the Final Four out of the South Region?
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