Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators Basketball: Final Four or Bust?

The Florida Gators might be the most complete team in the NCAA field of 68. They play smothering defense, great transition offense, can control the paint, and knock down threes when they need to. Not to mention, four starters are seniors who have a ton of experience and the only two freshman on the team may be the most talented out of them all. But what the Gators do better than any other group is play as a team. They play as a team in both phases of the game: Both offense and defense.

Florida’s offense is incredibly unselfish. Between the hustle plays to keep possessions alive (I’m talking to you Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin), or just making the extra pass to ensure points, the Gators really do it all. Florida makes about 23.7 shots per game and they notch an assist on 13 of those shots. That’s 54.9% of shots made a Gator gets a dime. Wilbekin does a great job with those assists, averaging 3.8 per game. He also takes care of ball, turning it over only 1.8 times per game for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3:1. That’s a pretty impressive ratio.

However, the Gators average only 70.7 points per game, good enough for 160th out of 351 teams. Their shooting percentage of 46.% ranks 63rd in Division I Men’s Basketball. Florida shoots a decent 36.8% from beyond the arc to be 73rd in the nation in that mark. That number has come up greatly since Wilbekin and Finney-Smith have been making more threes as of late. Florida’s effective true shooting percentage, which takes into account two-and three-point field goals, as well as free throws, winds up being 77th at 111.2%. That’s most likley because of the Gators poor free throw percentage. UF shoots a paltry 66.1% from the charity stripe. That number ranks them in the last quarter of eligible teams at 297. It just goes to show you, Florida’s effective field goal percentage, where the statistic adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a two-point field goal, is 52.7%. That ranks 43rd. Not bad for a team that sometimes is offensively challenged. Add that to the 4.3 extra scoring chances per game (Offensive Rebounds + Opponent Turnovers – Opponent Offensive Rebounds – Turnovers) they produce, and you’ve got an efficient offensive team good enough to win some games.

It’s Florida’s defense, however, that’s kept them in games with a chance to win in the end. The Gators defense is superb, ranking third in scoring defense, allowing only 57.9 points per game. Their opponents field goal percentage from the floor is only ranks 21st at 39.9%, with foes shooting only 42.9% (15th) from two. If there’s one are Florida struggles at on the defensive end, it’s three-point shooting percentage. Opponents  hit threes at a 33.3% clip, which is 115th in the country. The team on the other side has a 45.1% effective field goal percentage and a 97.6% true shooting percentage, good for 24th and 18th in the country, respectively.

I could throw out stats all day to you, but the one thing Florida does better than anyone else is play like a team. Players help each other and prevent a big play. They get big stops at opportune times. And if Florida is going to win the national championship, it won’t be because of numbers, but because they were the best team out there with great defense. We all know defense wins championships.

While Florida has some interesting potential matchups in the South Region, they are clearly the best team. The second best team, Kansas, lost to Florida in November. Syracuse and Ohio State both had great starts, but have had very slow finishes. They haven’t played well and most likely won’t get the chance to prove themselves to the Gators. Colorado should probably be an 11 or 12-seed based on their résumé and Pitt had a nice first season in the ACC, but wasn’t anything special. VCU or UCLA would be very interesting matchups, but Florida’s got too many options for the Rams and the Bruins couldn’t handle the Gators defense.

Plus, this Florida team is hungry for more. They’ve had the great accomplishment of making the Elite 8 three years straight. They know how to get that far. And with this team that was so good in single-digit games. The Gators went 15-2 in games won by less than 10 points this ear after struggling last year in close games. Not to mention there are four seniors who bleed orange and blue and would do pretty much anything to win a game. All of these experiences can fuel Florida toward their ultimate goal.

The answer is yes. Yes they will need to get to the Final Four. But I don’t think they will stop there. I think Scottie Wilbekin will lead the Gators past their Final Four opponent on his birthday and I think the Florida Gators will be cutting down the nets at Jerry World two nights later. I believe this, because Florida has been the best, most complete team all season.

What do you think? Who’s your pick to win it all? What are your Final Four teams? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter.

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Tags: Florida Gators Men's Basketball NCAA Tournament

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