Posted: 11:00 a.m. Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
You've watched Florida play all year, and you're dismayed that a handful of collapses have overshadowed Florida's ability to never be truly out of a game. You love that the Gators blow teams out when everything's working, and know that that's way easier at a neutral site that's foreign to both squads. You know that advanced statistics suggest that Florida's the best team in the country, and the one most likely to cut the nets in Atlanta.
This, friends, is for you. Here is your reasoning for why Florida can beat every team in the South Region, in chronological and threat order — for example, should Florida somehow get to the Elite Eight, Western Kentucky will be threatening, but not as threatening as the teams Florida has to beat to get there.
Northwestern State scoring 81.0 points per game is almost entirely a function of a nation-leading tempo: Give Florida 72.9 possessions per game, and the Gators would be scoring 86.2 points per game at their efficiency level. And Florida's tempo is naturally slow, at 62.5 possessions per game, but the Gators have the horses to run, and love to get out in semi-transition to create lay-ups or killer trailer threes; it's not like Northwestern State running is something Florida couldn't do if it wanted to.
The Demons are the sixth-worst team in the field according to KenPom (only four No. 16 seeds, Albany, and Montana are worse), and their defense is fourth-worst in the field, and that they have just two players over 6'4" averaging more than 16 minutes per game. There's no one to match up with Erik Murphyor Patric Young on their roster, and Florida should be able to ease into the round of 32 with a comfortable win.
Minnesota leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and knocked off Indiana and Wisconsin in Big Ten play: Tubby Smith's team is good when Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams are on, and Austin and Andre Hollins are hitting their shots. The problem is that they are off more than they are on: Minnesota lost to Northwestern and Nebraska in Big Ten play, and followed that win over Indiana with a 1-3 close against Penn State, Nebraska, Purdue, and Illinois.
Florida's consistency trumps Minnesota's occasional peaks, even if the Gophers get it together, and Florida's not extremely susceptible to domination on the offensive boards. But Minnesota's significantly better than their opponent, according to KenPom, so I'd rather Florida see...
The loss of Jordan Adams to a broken foot is huge for the Bruins: Adams was both their glue guy and their most efficient player, because he didn't take the bad shots Shabazz Muhammad settles for from midrange and doesn't have Kyle Anderson's massive problems putting the ball in the bucket.
And UCLA, without Adams, lost to an Oregon squad that seemingly needed the Pac-12 Tournament title to get into the NCAA Tournament. Unless the Wear twins get really good at rebounding in the next 48 hours, UCLA probably won't be around to see Florida, but I have only minimal worries that Florida wouldn't get past the Bruins, as it would likely require egg-laying on the Gators' part.
I was at that Florida-Georgetown game on the boat, and so I remember it, and I don't remember Otto Porter being a difference-maker; I remember his weird shot, which is nearly a set shot, being off, and Nate Lubick being Florida's biggest headache, and the partial box score backs me up.
Since then, Porter's blossomed into the Big East's best player who doesn't suit up for Rick Pitino and a sure lottery pick, and both Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera have turned into capable lieutenants on the wing while Lubick has made nearly 61 percent of his twos. But Georgetown struggles mightily when the jumpers it gets don't fall, and struggles against good defenses.
Florida's defense is all about cutting off the rim and forcing bad jumpers, which is a bad sign for the Hoyas. And Florida has Scottie Wilbekin now, and wouldn't be playing on the slick deck of the U.S.S. Bataan, which would probably cut down on the many turnovers the Gators committed on that night.
San Diego State has talent, and is the third team in the bottom half of the South, after Florida and Georgetown, to have played a game on a boat in 2012-13, though the Aztecs lost to Syracuse and looked awful while doing it. But San Diego State's three big wins came over UCLA without Shabazz Muhammad in November, and over Colorado State and New Mexico at home in January.
There's not a lot to suggest that the Aztecs are even going to beat Oklahoma for sure, and they're likely to be ground into dust by Georgetown, but this is another team, like Minnesota, that should be better given the talent (Chase Tapley, Jamaal Franklin) on the roster, and isn't likely to put it all together for NCAA Tournament play.
The Sooners have two very talented players in Romero Osby and NBA Draft prospect Amath M'Baye, but the truth is that Osby is the only one of the two that is a good collegiate player. He takes and makes more shots, and gets better ones, and gets more rebounds, and actually draws fouls ... and M'Baye settles for jumpers he doesn't even hit at a stellar rate.
You can get to the NCAA Tournament with one good player and a mediocre supporting cast (Steven Pledger is probably Osby's best teammate, and even he is only a 37 percent shooter from three, good but not lethal), but you're not sticking around for very long.
Gulf Coast's claim to fame this year hinges on a horrific shooting day from Durand Scott-less Miami leaving the 'Canes vulnerable in a road test that came a couple hours west of Coral Gables on the Tamiami Trail.
Besides that, and the Teddy Dupay-meets-Erving Walker play of Brett Comer, nothing about the Eagles is all that superlative: Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson are both decent shooters from three, and Chase Fieler dominated an undersized Atlantic Sun as a low-rent stretch forward, but this team isn't beating Georgetown unless it comes out shooting hotter than ... nope, you're not getting the joke about coach Andy Enfield's wife here. Also, he's a former Florida State assistant.
Kansas is very, very good, and Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey will probably both play well in the NBA sooner rather than later. (McLemore was Bradley Beal's fellow St. Louis stud in the 2011 class, but academic issues left him ineligible in 2012-13, delaying his one year at Kansas just enough to avoid a terrifying combination of McLemore on the wing and Thomas Robinson in the post.) Kansas has also lost to TCU and gotten spanked by Baylor, warning signs that weren't present for the 2011 Elite Eight team nor the 2012 national final team.
The talent is all there for Bill Self, with McLemore (43.7 percent of his threes go down) and Withey (57.7 percent on twos) serving as just two of the five Jayhawks posting Offensive Ratings of better than 114 on the year and Travis Releford shooting an otherworldly 65.8 percent on twos and 41.3 percent from three. But Self often has talent, and his Kansas teams have disappointed with tremendous rosters before. What's more, the road to even meeting Florida is rough: North Carolina could outplay Kansas in a shootout; VCU could wreck another Kansas March with its pressure, especially given the Jayhawks' lack of a great point guard; Michigan could certainly beat the Jayhawks with better offense.
If Florida sees Kansas in the Elite Eight, guarding McLemore will be an issue, and avoiding Withey's devastating shot-blocking will be an issue, and the talent gap will be an issue. But Kansas might take care of itself before then, and I like Florida over the Jayhawks by slightly more than a coin-flip percentage.
Michigan is like Florida, but the Florida of previous years: John Beilein's offense creates great shots, and the Wolverines succeed when they make them, but they can't play defense at an elite level. What makes Michigan greater than the Florida teams in the span between 2007 and this year's tremendous bunch is Trey Burke, who is one of the most complete and special point guards college basketball has had in years. (Damian Lillard was about as good last year, but you didn't know who he was; Kyrie Irving was great for about two months. It's impossible not to know Burke, who might yet be this year's player of the year.)
Burke makes it all go for the maize and blue, and he's capable of rescuing Michigan if it gets into trouble, which it very well might see against both South Dakota State and VCU in the first two rounds. And he could carve up Kansas. But I think we see Michigan's defense knock the Wolverines out before Burke gets a chance to knock Florida out.
It's fun to watch VCU and praise Shaka Smart's HAVOC scheme: It requires so much of all of the players on the floor to ask them all to play like hellions on defense and still have the legs to make jumpers on offense that it's clear both that Smart has a system that only works with full commitment from his players and that he gets it routinely. But that system works better when VCU can match an opponent's athleticism and dictate tempo, and doing that was easier in the Colonial than it was for the Rams in the A-10 this year.
It's also impossible for any Smart-coached team to sneak up on someone in 2013, not after VCU's 2011 Final Four run, and it seems unlikely that Trey Burke is susceptible to being VCU'd, and it's ludicrous to think that Kansas won't do better against VCU with full prep than the outfit that succumbed to HAVOC in 2011, even though the Jayhawks' lack of a great point guard is still a flaw to be exploited. VCU is going to be competitive in all of its games, but it needs things to break just right to even see Florida.
North Carolina should probably get a lot more shots for Reggie Bullock, considering that Bullock shoots almost 44 percent from three and nearly 56 percent on twos. North Carolina should probably reserve most of the shots that don't go to Bullock for P.J. Hairston, whose efficient free throw acquisition and execution helps offset his less impressive shooting.
Instead, James Michael McAdoo shoots a lot of tough jumpers, and makes about 45 percent of them, and Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland shoot tough jumpers and don't make them. It's not rare for North Carolina to have so many dumb offensive players (Hairston was one of them, last year), but it's unusual to have so many at the same time and for Roy Williams to lack a Kendall Marshall-caliber point guard. I mean, that hasn't happened since ... 2010, when Carolina was an NIT team?
Villanova is in the NCAA Tournament because it draws fouls like no one else and makes free throws at a reasonable rate, and it used that skill to great effect in wins over Louisville (22-for-29 on the line), Syracuse (18-for-30), Marquette (18-for-25), and Georgetown (30-for-42). Here is what happens when Villanova's Free Throw Rate (simply free throws attempted divided by field goals attempted) is under 60 percent: It goes 7-7 with four double-digit losses and beats no team better than Connecticut.
Drawing free throws is easier, I think, in conference, where the refs get to know players and the coaches get to know refs; the same things get whistled, more (in conferences with competent officials) or less (in the SEC). It is not particularly easy to do that for three straight NCAA Tournament games ... especially given that the first team Villanova sees is 16th in Free Throw Rate allowed (or defensive Free Throw Rate), and Michigan, No. 1 in that stat, looms as a Sweet Sixteen foe. I like Ryan Arcidiacono's name a lot, though.
Nate Wolters' Jackrabbits are a good, fun bunch, and that "Play like you're loved" motto is going to stay with me for a long time. That said, South Dakota State needs Wolters to play the game of his life to beat Michigan, and even that might not work, because it's not going to take the game of Trey Burke's life to outdo Wolters at his peak.
Akron is not beating VCU without its starting point guard. VCU is not a middling MAC team, and VCU will find a way to neutralize seven-footer Zeke Marshall's size, and Akron wasn't even good at avoiding turnovers when Alex Abreuwas around.
Someday, a No. 16 seed will beat a No. 1. It won't be Western Kentucky, which won the Sun Belt Tournament largely because Florida International took out the Middle Tennessee team that beat it twice.