Florida’s potential road to the Final Four has been revealed.
The Gators earned a six seed in the East Region, the semifinals and finals of which will be played in the Boston Celtics’ home arena of TD Garden. But before they can get there, they’ll play their first two games in Dallas, TX.
Florida will discover its first round opponent late Tuesday night. A pair of eleven seeds- UCLA and St. Bonaventure, two of the last four teams in- will play in Dayton, OH, for the right to travel to Dallas and take on the Gators. The winner of that UCLA/SBU matchup will play Florida on Thursday afternoon or evening, with the top time to be determined. The Gators are 2-0 all time against St. Bonaventure and 4-0 all time against UCLA.
Should the Gators win that first game, they’ll take on the winner of the third seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders and fourteenth seeded Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks. Florida has won both prior meetings against Texas Tech and has never faced SFA.
And for that first weekend, the draw couldn’t be any better. None of those four teams the Gators potentially play presents the type of scoring threat that can overpower Florida nor do any of them have a significant size advantage that can bully the Gators down low. Even though they have developed a reputation for inconsistency, I do expect the Gators to advance out of the Lone Star State and to the Sweet 16 in Boston. After all, Florida did beat Gonzaga in the same type of de facto road game in Portland that they’re likely to face Texas Tech in, and they have actually been a better road team than they are at home this year. And as for that first game, whoever they get will be a team of lesser talent that is coming off of a game late two nights ago and will have logged a lot of travel miles from their homes to Dayton and then to Dallas.
But the road gets significantly harder if the Gators can make it out of Dallas. Florida’s likely Sweet 16 opponent is Purdue, who possesses about ten times the collective size Mike White’s team does. The only real path to victory over the Boilermakers in Boston would be for the Gators to shoot the lights out and force a ton of turnovers that they then score off of- and the course of the season has proven that, though entirely possible, isn’t something you want to bet money on. In fact, Gator fans might want to root for the winner of Arkansas and Butler to beat Purdue so the Boilermakers are gone before Florida has to face them in New England, a statement that I make with memories of what Arkansas did to Florida 46 hours ago still very fresh in my mind.
And if the Gators do make it past Purdue, they would likely face Villanova, the nation’s best statistical offense and another team who would outsize them, in the Elite Eight. Beating the Wildcats is not an impossible task, but again, it will require the Gators to shoot exceptionally well from three point land and score in transition.
As we all know, though, things that you would expect to happen are only marginally more likely to happen than correctly picking the result of a coin flip in March. Florida was on the positive end of that a few times last March down the stretch against Wisconsin, and on the heartbroken end of it two nights later against South Carolina. The book on Florida is the same now as it was in December: shoot well and they can beat anybody, shoot badly and they can lose to anybody. But it’s which chapter of that book they’ll reprise going forward that will be what they’re remembered for- and maybe be on the celebrating side of some more March magic.