The top-seeded Florida Gators (33-2, 18-0 SEC) overcame a spunky Albany Great Danes squad to face the 9th-seed Pittsburgh Panthers (26-9, 11-7 ACC) in the Round of 32. While there was never really a doubt who was going to win the game, the Gators definitely raised the blood pressure of many fans with a disjointed effort against the Great Danes. They managed to escape and that’s all that matters in the NCAA Tournament. As my father-in-law texted me, “Win and advance…If you pretty look in the mirror.” Florida’s on to the next round to square off against an impressive-looking Pitt team.
Pitt played in the first game of the day at the Amway Center and put on a show. Pittsburgh beat the 8-seed Colorado Buffaloes 77-48. The Panthers were spectacular on both ends of the floor, shooting 50.8% on the offensive end, while only allowing the Buffs to shoot 35.7%. Colorado could never get into a rhythm and Pitt’s disruptive defense definitely played into that. Colorado looked overmatched throughout the entire game. Talib Zanna led the Panthers with 18 points and 5 rebounds in the win.
The matchup between Pitt and Colorado may have been a little far-fetched, however. The Panthers were likely underseeded after a successful regular season campaign and the Buffs were overseeded, based on what they had done with their best player, Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL January 12 and hasn’t seen the court since. Not to take anything away from Pitt’s impressive win, but they haven’t faced a complete team like the Florida Gators all season.
Meanwhile, Florida sleepwalked through their game with UAlbany. Their offense was never in sync and their defense was even worse, despite holding the Great Danes to 39.2% shooting. The only bright spot for the Gators was guard Kasey Hill. After some rumblings he may miss the game with turf toe, Hill came out and was a spark off the bench. His lightning quickness and coast-to-coast speed gave the Gators some momentum in the second half. Hill finished with 10 points in 17 minutes.
Florida will have their hands full with this Pitt squad. They’re almost a mirror image of each other with even their players being similar in size. Offensively, they’re both middle of the road teams a high percentage from the floor (46.1%-79th for Pitt, 46.3%-74th for Florida) and play excellent defense. The Gators rank third in the nation in points allowed per game with 57.9, while the Panthers come in allowing 61.9 points, good for 20th in the country. Both Florida and Pitt use a full court press to rank in the top-75 when it comes to steals, with the Gators coming in a little ahead of the Panthers, 7.2 to 7.0. This game has all the makings of a low scoring, slug-it-out affair that Florida has been pretty good in this year. In games decided by 10 points or less, UF comes in with a 17-2 record. Pitt, on the other hand, managed a 9-8 record in such games.
Pitt and Florida have met six times before with the Panthers holding a 4-2 edge. However, the two haven’t played since Billy Donovan became head coach 18 years ago. Florida will have all of their crazy amazing streaks on the line, including their 27-game winning streak. But this win comes with even bigger stakes. Donovan can move into sole possession of 2nd place on the SEC’s all-time win list with a W and the senior class can become the winningest in UF-history. Donovan has 448 wins as the Gators head man, tied with Dale Brown (LSU) and behind Adolph Rupp (Kentucky). Florida’s quartet of seniors, Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete, and Patric Young have 117 wins in their careers, tied with Walter Hodge.
Florida will likely start their four seniors: forward Casey Prather, guard Scottie Wilbekin, foward Will Yeguete, and center Patric Young, with sophomore Michael Frazier II at guard. Pitt will probably counter with senior forward Lamar Patterson, sophomore guard James Robinson, junior guard Cameron Wright, freshman forward Michael Young, and senior center Talib Zanna.
Tip-off is set for 12:15 pm at the Amway Center in Orlando. With the game being a little over 100 miles from Gainesville, it should be a very much like a home game with a pro-Gator crowd. It’s the first game of the day, so there likely won’t be delays. TV coverage will be on CBS, or streaming at March Madness Live. If you can only listen to the game, you can check it out on the Gator IMG Sports Network, XM 192, Sirius 93, or streaming on Country 103.7 The Gator and Westwood One Sports.