Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Explaining the Gators' drive to the Sweet 16

Considering Florida's recent basketball history, the Gators' run to the Sweet 16 might qualify as a mild surprise.

Two years ago, UF finished 16-17 in Billy Donovan's final season. Two weeks ago, UF was skidding with three losses in its last four games and an early exit in the SEC tournament.

Those struggles are in the past as the fourth-seeded Gators prepare to face eighth-seeded Wisconsin in Friday's East Region semifinal in New York.

Here are five reasons UF made it there:

1. Defense.

The most extreme example came Saturday when UF held Virginia to 39 points. It's the fewest points the Gators have ever allowed in the NCAAs and tied for the fewest in the Tournament by any team since 2014.

That's just UF's latest defensive accolade. Guard Kasey Hill — an all-SEC defensive talent — ranks fourth in school history with 179 steals. Only four UF players have ever blocked more shots in a season than center Kevarrius Hayes (54). Using stat guru Ken Pomeroy's advanced metrics, the Gators have the third-best defense in the country, behind Gonzaga and the Virginia team they just eliminated.

"They're bought into it," coach Mike White said.

2. Transfers.

Before tearing his ACL, center John Egbunu was looking like the top-100 recruit he was when he signed with USF. Although guard Canyon Barry is 2-of-8 shooting in the Tournament, the College of Charleston transfer was the SEC's sixth man of the year. And one of Saturday's biggest stars, forward Justin Leon, came to UF after starring at Shawnee (Ill.) Community College; Leon had 14 points and 10 rebounds against Virginia. Their collective experience has been important for a team that entered the year with only one player (Hill) who had Tournament experience.

3. Devin Robinson.

White called the 6-foot-8 forward one of the SEC's most improved players, and it's hard to argue with him — especially considering that White pulled Robinson from games last year because of his actions away from the ball. "If I want to have playing time," Robinson said, "I had to play defense." He has done that without jeopardizing his offense. Robinson dropped 24 points on East Tennessee State and 14 more on Virginia.

4. Depth.

UF doesn't have a superstar — the closest thing is all-SEC guard KeVaughn Allen — but it has a roster of solid players. Six different Gators average at least seven points per game, and none averages more than 13.4.

Eight players have led UF in scoring at least once this season. The depth has been vital in the tournament, where leading scorers Allen and Barry have made only 5 of 29 shots.

5. Things clicked with White.

Hill said things weren't bad with White and the players during last year's NIT run. But they didn't really get comfortable with each other until White began texting almost daily in the summer about the upcoming season and his expectations. "That's when I realized that relationship was starting to change," Hill said. And that change has helped UF get back into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014 and fifth since 2011.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

NCAA Tournament East Region semifinal

No. 4 Florida (26-8) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (27-9)

about 9:59 p.m. Friday, Madison Square Garden, New York

TV: TBS

Explaining the Gators' drive to the Sweet 16 03/20/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 21, 2017 11:33am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Wilson Ramos feeling good and confident, eyeing late June return to Rays

    Blogs

    Sitting on the bench in the Rays dugout in his full catcher's gear, Wilson Ramos talked excitedly Tuesday about the progress in his recovery from right knee surgery and the potential to be back in the major leagues by this time next month.

    "I feel like a player right now,'' Ramos said.

    Wilson Ramos is aiming to be back with the Rays by this time next month.
  2. Tampa lands Super Bowl in 2021

    Bucs

    Tampa's Super again. Or at least it will be soon.

    Mike Tomlin celebrates with LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu after the Steelers beat the Cardinals in 


Super Bowl XLIII  on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [Times files (2009)
  3. Why Ryan Fitzpatrick may solve the puzzle for Bucs at backup quarterback

    Blogs

    Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to leave One Buc Place following Thursday’s off-season workout and fly home to New Jersey in time to teach a class of 10 second and third grade students how to solve the Rubiks Cube.

    The Bucs are hoping Ryan Fitzpatrick can provide the solution to their puzzle at backup quarterback behind starter Jameis Winston.
  4. For starters: Rays vs. Angels, with Cobb leading the way

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 5:32: 2B Brad Miller (abdominal strain) is not doing much in the way of baseball activity yet so that means he won't be ready when eligible to come off the DL on Friday. ... SS Matt Duffy (left heel) said he is still slowed by the big left toe he bruised taking BP on Saturday and does not have a date to …

    Alex Cobb will start tonight when the Rays play the Angels.
  5. Family a driving force for University of Tampa pitcher David Lebron

    College

    TAMPA — For University of Tampa junior pitcher David Lebron, baseball reminds him of family. He uses it to help honor the memory of his father, who taught him the game. One day, he hopes his career can help support his mother and allow her to rest.

    University of Tampa junior pitcher David Lebron (Courtesy of University of Tampa)