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. Rays Tales: The stories behind Corey Dickerson's ascension

    The Heater

    The 25 pounds DH/LF Corey Dickerson lost during the winter through diet and exercise are considered the primary reason for his ascension to one of the American League's most productive hitters, going into the weekend leading in hits, multi-hit games and total bases, and ranked in the top five in average, runs and …

    Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) connects for a sac fly, scores Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Steve Pearce (28) in the fourth inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
  2. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 12:45: Cash said Robertson was taking better swings Friday and so he wanted to move him up today, liking the idea of having three straight right-handers vs. a LHP they don't know much about. ... Souza was still smiling this morning about his failed dive attempt last night, and the reaction it got. .. The …

  3. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) celebrates with his team on the bench after beating Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) to score his second goal of the period and to tie the score at 4 to 4 during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (03/27/17).
  4. Why the Lightning should keep Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    Keep him.

    Jonathan Drouin is live bait. The Lightning is ready to run the hook through him and cast him out there again. Drouin has enough talent for the Lightning to meet some defensive needs in a deal.

    Keep him.

    Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin celebrates after beating Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj during the first period of Tuesday's win in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  5. This Tampa Bay Lightning wing rides the newest wave of fan interaction

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There are photos of Lightning fan Shaun Egger as a toddler at center ice at the then-Thunderome, aka Tropicana Field. He's played in the Lightning's high school hockey league for Palm Harbor University. But his closest personal encounter with players had been waving through a crowd after a training camp …

    Tampa Bay Lightning player J.T. Brown wears his anti UV glasses as he talks over the headset with a hockey fan while they play against each other on line in an XBOX NHL video game in Brown's game room at his home in south Tampa. The fan chose to be the Washington Capitals and Brown, of course, was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Brown interacts with fans through video game systems as he streams the games live on Twitch with plans for the proceeds to go to charity.