The Gators face its biggest challenge of the tournament tonight — literally and metaphorically – taking on a tall and talented Wisconsin frontcourt. And though the arguably under seeded Badgers have been a popular pick, Florida has a rather clear path to victory.
In a case of “easier said than done”, here is a look at the Gators keys to victory.
1) Pretend the Badgers are the Cavaliers: No, not Cleveland. I’m talking Virginia — the team Florida swamped by 26 points last Saturday. Why? Well, by doing so the Gators should enter the game confident in its ability to beat a team with very similar style/tempo. Wisconsin will absolutely look to slow the game and seek to make it a half court grinder. But as done versus Virginia, Florida will push tempo off misses – and look to score in transition and wear out a relatively thin Badger team. Florida is far faster and more athletic, but those attributes will only be of benefit if the Gators can get out in front of the Wisconsin defense. The overriding key to the game is will be whether or not Florida can dictate pace, as it did so successfully versus Virginia.
2) Dominate the bench battle: The Gators boast the conference’s “Sixth Man Of The Year” in Canyon Barry, and have the luxury of a 22-point average coming off the bench between he, Chiozza and Stone. Though Wisconsin will play deep into its bench, the production drop-off is significant. The Badgers yield half the points from its first three bench players that Florida does —- a margin that could be significant. If Florida can get production from Barry, Chiozza and Stone – it may have the dual effect of wearing on Wisconsin and creating a disparity tough to overcome.
3) Can Keonig: To quote Mike White, Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig presents a “quandary”. The big-moment, clutch guard can bury threes, and often at the most inopportune times. Koenig shoots nearly 40% from the arc, making it a “pick your poison” scenario when deciding whether to double down on the interior or stretch out on the perimeter. But Koenig can be defended, as he is not a player who will typically beat his opponents off the bounce. Hill will likely draw the assignment, and must be disciplined to stay glued. In losses to Creighton, UNC, Northwestern, Purdue and Michigan State –the explosive guard was held to 5 of 26 from the arc. Florida has to similarly can Koenig.
4) 1 and Done: Wisconsin is a skilled, though less than potent offensive team. Its 72.1 ppg average ranks 199th in college basketball, but . . . and it’s a BIG BUT . . . the Badgers rebound the heck out of the ball. Wisconsin owns the 19th best rebounding margin, with a +6.4 figure. Second chances will not only bolster the Wisconsin offense, but further slow the game. Florida cannot afford to grind out a full shot-clock defensive effort, only to yield a rebound — and do it all over again. The good news is that the Gators are no slouches on the glass either, with a +2.1 margin. But for Florida, it will have to be a team effort. And those teams that do beat Wisconsin on the glass often beat ‘em on the scoreboard. Wisconsin lost the rebounding battle in 6 of its 9 losses. Florida need not win that battle of the boards, but has to hold its own .
5) Celebrate KA day: Florida’s leading scorer, KeVaughn Allen, has yet to make his big tourney splash. But perhaps today is the day . . . KA Day! Florida will need production and points from its backcourt, as it will likely lose the point tally up front. Wisconsin does not have the speed or athleticism to match Florida, and the Gator guards could be poised for a big outing. Statistics alone suggest Allen is due to breakout. Florida needs it to be tonight.