It might be the NCAA Tournament and all neutral sites the rest of the way, but the Florida Gators aren’t out of the woods yet when it comes to playing in hostile environments.
The Gators got the advantage of a couple essential home games from playing in Orlando in the first and second rounds of last year’s tournament, but they will be on the other end of it come Saturday.
Third-seeded Texas Tech only had to travel a few hours down the road to make it to Dallas. The Red Raider faithful are sure to show out in full force to help their team advance to the Sweet 16.
From playing the first 11 games on the road last season, to a meeting with Gonzaga in Portland in the PK80, to annual trips to Rupp Arena, Florida knows a little something about what it takes to be successful in these situations.
“I don’t think any team in the country is more battle-tested than we are over the last two years, considering what we had to go through last year with the renovations to Exactech Arena,” said head coach Mike White. “We’ve played a ton of games away from home. We’ve played a ton of neutral site games … This will be comparable to the Gonzaga game, which we didn’t get any computer favorability for, unfortunately, but that was a road game, and tomorrow will be a road game as well.”
Oddly enough, the Gators have played some of their best games on the road this season. This team has found a way to do some damage with its back against the wall and often gotten a little too comfortable when there’s a ton of orange and blue in the crowd.
Florida’s players know 95 percent of the fans will be backing Texas Tech on Saturday, but at the same time feel there is very little the fans can do to change what happens on the court.
“I feel like we’ve played better in our away games,” said junior center Kevarrius Hayes. “We come together knowing it’s all of us on the court, the coaches, and everybody else on the staff. So, it’s going to feel pretty comfortable playing against a crowd that has their fans backing them. It’s going to be a good game for us.”
Whether the crowd has anything to do with it or not, the Red Raiders could cause some major problems for Florida.
The Gators often struggled to hit open shots against St. Bonaventure on Thursday, and they probably won’t get many of those looks against Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders are essentially everything Florida isn’t.
They are long, athletic, speedy and rarely break down on defense. All of that has made Texas Tech the No. 3 defense in the country, according to KenPom.
“We’ve played a lot of teams this year that you watch on film, and you say in talking to your team, ‘This guy is really athletic.’ They’ve got like five of those guys,” White said. “And they’ve got veteran guards. They play really hard.”
Saturday night is sure to be one of Florida’s toughest tests of the season, but that’s what postseason play is all about. Despite the Red Raiders’ obvious advantages, the Gators come in feeling confident about getting a win and advancing in the tournament.