Posted: 9:00 a.m. Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
Are you worried about Florida's ability to play basketball without embarrassing itself? Will Marshall Henderson getting
gift free throws and a three off an uncalled goaltend the chutzpah to landshark and Gator Chomp his way past Florida haunt your dreams for months? Do you look at Florida's draw in the 2013 NCAA Tournament in fear and worry that Florida will lose to any team it plays?
Then this, friends, is for you. Here is your reasoning for why Florida will lose to 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 is the highest-scoring team in the country: It puts up 81.0 points per game, and does so on a staggering 72.9 possessions per game, good enough to get their offense solidly within the top 100 offenses in the nation in terms of efficiency at 105.4 points per 100 possessions.
Ignore that the Demons are the sixth-worst team in the field according to KenPom (only four No. 16 seeds, Albany, and Montana are worse), and that 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: A better Northwestern State team that didn't play as fast (but was slightly more efficient on offense rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Iowa as a No. 14 seed in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, and so Florida is clearly going to fall to a different team with completely different personnel despite being much better than that Iowa team was. Florida chokes. It's fate.
No one believes UCLA, which is allergic to rebounding, will get past a rugged Minnesota team that leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and knocked off Indiana and Wisconsin in Big Ten play. Sure, Minnesota needed overtime and its full complement of players to beat Wisconsin by five points at home, while Florida drubbed the Badgers by 18 in regulation despite missing Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather, but those are just facts.
Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams are both NBA-caliber athletes capable of putting an entire team on a poster, and they sometimes play hard; Austin and Andre Hollins are brothers — you can't pick against brothers — and both are better than Mbakwe and Williams, and one of them should actually be shooting threes. Also, Tubby Smith has never been accused of being a bad coach. Minnesota should come out ready to thump the Gators, and shock them from the beginning.
Rumors about UCLA firing Ben Howland, who has led the Bruins to three Final Fours in eight years in Westwood and piloted an iffy UCLA squad to the Pac-12 regular season title this year, exist, and some of them also include the suggestion that UCLA would make a run at Billy Donovan, so that's clearly an indication that UCLA is a powerhouse to be feared in this NCAA Tournament.
Losing Jordan Adams to a broken foot clearly didn't slow UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament: After he scored 24 points to lead the Bruins past Arizona in a quarterfinal, the Bruins didn't lead for the last 30 minutes to an Oregon team. This is a talented (Adams, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, and Tony Parker all have NBA futures; the Wear twins and Larry Drew II were also blue-chip prospects), unselfish (Muhammad has 26 assists in 31 games this year), and hard-working (you have to work hard to lose to Washington State, USC, and Cal Poly) bunch that can give any team fits like it has given Howland all year.
Otto Porter is a player Syracuse Jim Boeheim recently hailed as one of the best in Big East history, which is high praise from a coach whose team was on the way out of the Big East. Georgetown also shot and defended shots very well in the Big East, but still finished second to Louisville in defensive efficiency in the conference. So what if the Hoyas haven't scored 75 points in regulation since Christmas? They still came within three points of South Florida in Tampa, and the Bulls went on to win two whole other Big East games.
Georgetown's patient offense and smothering half-court defense recall Florida, if Florida's problems with scoring in the last eight minutes of games on the road were problems scoring, period, but Georgetown played in a better conference than the SEC.
Did you know Kawhi Leonard went to San Diego State? It's true. He did. That's gotta count for a lot more than an 8-8 close to the season since opening 14-2, and the lack of a road win since late January.
The Sooners lost to TCU by three, while Kansas lost to TCU by seven, then lost to Oklahoma by 13 which makes them ... 413 points better than Kansas. I know math. I know the transitive property.
FGCU beat Miami by 12. Clearly, this is a dangerous team against anyone, and not one that used a horrific shooting day from the Durand Scott-less Hurricanes to score an upset win at home.
As previously covered, Kansas lost to TCU ... which is just what the Jayhawks needed to get good at basketball again. Their wake-up call after that game was delayed by a nice whack on the snooze button and a loss to Oklahoma, but the Jayhawks did get it together at the end of the season, reeling off huge wins over Texas, TCU, West Virginia, and Texas Tech and only needing overtime to beat Oklahoma State and Iowa State because the refs couldn't figure out a way to make the controversial calls go KU's way earlier.
That 23-point loss to Baylor at the end of the regular season? Meh: Baylor wanted it way more, and it's not alarming at all for the No. 5 defense in the country to have given up 1.27 points per possession to a team coached by Scott Drew. And Kansas thrashed the three teams it saw in the Big 12 Tournament, which was held less than an hour from Lawrence in Kansas City, so what is there to worry about? Jeff Withey is incredible at defense and Ben McLemore is a sure top-five pick with a silky offensive game, and they're going to carry Kansas, which has no history whatsoever of underperforming in March under Bill Self, to the Final Four.
Little-known fact: Shaka Smart's one year at Florida came two years after Florida's two national titles, and Billy Donovan actually learned everything he knows about coaching from that one season. That's why Donovan's Gators press infrequently now: Smart installed his infamous HAVOC system of full-court pressure and ran it to perfection with Dan Werner in practice at Florida.
Smart now gets VCU's easiest road yet to the Final Four, which he has been to more recently than Donovan, and has perhaps his most dizzying, daring set of Rams, a group that led the country in turnover and steal percentage and only struggled mightily to score and/or defend in games against teams that controlled the pace and minimized turnovers, like Saint Louis and Richmond. It'll be an immensely confident VCU team that Florida would see, too, considering that the Rams' road to the Elite Eight runs through Kansas and Michigan.
In conclusion, fire Billy Donovan and hire Shaka Smart.
Few teams do better impressions of non-title-winning Florida teams than 2013 Michigan did: The Wolverines shoot the lights out, especially from three, and rarely take bad shots, but don't get to the basket very often and hate defense. John Beilein's team burst to a 16-0 start to the 2012-13 season, then finished 10-7 down the stretch, and lost to Penn State, but winning 16 games in a row is almost like winning three consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
Also, Al Horford's brother, Jon, is a Wolverine, and so are the sons of Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson. Michigan will make the largely geriatric population of Florida feel old, even if it doesn't beat Florida.
North Carolina went to a smallball lineup that makes use of its talented wings without sacrificing too much underneath, and has only lost twice to two NCAA Tournament teams and beaten one NCAA Tournament team since its installation. James Michael McAdoo is the best 6'9" player who shoots 45 percent from the field in America, and should definitely have a higher usage rate than the hyper-efficient Reggie Bullock and the very good P.J. Hairston. Roy Williams is a genius.
Remember when Villanova beat Florida in the 2005 NCAA Tournament? Florida got revenge in the 2006 iteration, beating the 'Cats with the Final Four on the line, but that victory clearly sets Villanova up for revenge in a best-of-three series. I know sports movies.
If the other SDSU can't get it done, Nate Wolters' Jackrabbits certainly can. Wolters is a mid-major Jimmer/Marshall, except he's more efficient than either at their best, and he has a smarter team around him. SoDak State's starting lineup is essentially its rotation, and all of those players shoot well, especially from three, and defend without fouling, which is a recipe for upsets. They'd only need to pull three of those to see Florida.
The Zips made it all the way through the MAC Tournament without starting point guard Alex Abreu, who decided to distribute the leaf as well as the rock, but get VCU in the first round. Facing VCU is scary enough, but facing VCU without your starting point guard?
Jonathan Dowling is at Western Kentucky now, and his photos of that trip that Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd took down south almost assurely inspired Rachel George's look into Floyd's eligibility for USA TODAY. The photos were harmless, it turned out, but Dowling's curse is surely mighty enough to submarine a No. 16 seed that managed a run to the Elite Eight.