Florida Versus Colorado NCAA Tournament Round Of 64 Preview

The Florida Gators have their Round Of 64 opponent set. 


In a first four game in Dayton that was close for fourty minutes the Colorado Buffaloes were able to withstand the Boise State Broncos 60-53 earning a matchup with the Gators on Friday. Florida was able to watch comfortably from a conference room in their hotel in Indianapolis while Colorado battled a physical Boise State team in a game that didn’t end until after 11:45 PM local time, possibly giving the Gators an advantage from a rest standpoint. 


In order to get here the Buffaloes went 24-10, finishing third in the Pac-12. They made it to the finals of the Pac-12 Tournament only to fall to an Oregon team that would have been out of the Big Dance had they not come away victorious, and it sent Colorado to the play-in game against Boise State. 


Entering the season there was a lot of hype surrounding the Colorado program. They were returning one of the best point guards in the country in KJ Simpson as well as a quality stretch four in Tristan Da Silva. They went to the transfer portal and got big man Eddie Lampkin, a proven high-major center with NCAA Tournament experience. Perhaps even more than that was bringing in Cody Williams, a 6’8” forward that was a projected top-10 NBA Draft pick set to go one-and-done in Boulder. 


Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, things didn’t go exactly as planned. While their season wasn’t bad by any means–they did make the Tournament, after all–it lacked many moments where they felt like they were playing their best basketball. During non-conference play their best win came over Richmond, a team that finished 90th in KenPom. They also didn’t suffer any bad losses, with their worst coming to Florida State. 

(By the way, if you like the common opponent game–the Gators beat Richmond 87-76 while Colorado beat them 64-59, and the Gators beat Florida State 89-68 while Colorado lost to them 77-71). 


Conference play wasn’t much of a different story for Colorado. They weren’t able to get wins against the top of the league, but they feasted on the bottom of it which still allowed them to finish third and get a quality seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. The story of them avoiding bad losses but not getting great wins extends all the way to the NCAA Tournament, where their win over Boise State who is 39th in KenPom stands as their best win of the season. With Florida currently 29th in KenPom, it would easily be the best opponent the Buffaloes have taken down should they be able to beat the Gators.


For a while this was the story surrounding the Gators, but then they were able to get wins over Auburn, Alabama, and Kentucky. These quality wins simply haven’t yet come for Colorado. 


While this season was far from perfect for Colorado March Madness is all about bringing your best to the hardwood when it matters and the Buffaloes have a ton of size and talent that could come alive at any moment, starting with point guard KJ Simpson Simpson has been one of the best point guards if not one of the best overall players in all of college basketball averaging 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.6 steals, all while hitting 45% of his threes. Considering that Florida has had their issues containing talented guards this season this matchup is going to be a concern, particularly due to the fact Simpson can get it done outside with the jumper or use his physicality to get to the rim. Against Boise State he finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals, using sheer will alongside his talent to get the most out of his 6’2” frame. Boise State was able to keep him quiet for much of the first half, but in the second he came alive and that was ultimately one of the biggest differentiators in this game.


While Simpson played a huge role, the reason why Colorado was able to take down Boise State was the play of their frontcourt duo of Eddie Lampkin and Tristan Da Silva. Da Silva was particularly dangerous with 20 points while hitting 3-6 of his three-point shots, and that’s going to be a concern for Florida’s defense. Standing at 6’9” and 220 pounds Da Silva is more than capable of banging in the paint but where he’s at his best is as a pick and pop threat and loves to show his range like he did against Boise State. Florida’s conservative drop pick and roll coverage will protect the rim but concedes these kinds of threes from a big man, and Da Silva can punish it. KJ Simpson is excellent at attracting defensive attention in the midrange before finding Da Silva, and they’ll almost certainly look to use the pick and pop once again knowing how the Gators will likely guard them.


Eddie Lampkin is listed at 6’11” and 265 pounds, and that number might be on the conservative side. He is a behemoth in the paint, and Boise State simply wasn’t big enough in the frontcourt to keep him from getting easy points in the paint as he finished with 13 points on 6-8 shooting. A 4th year player who started his career at TCU where he had NCAA Tournament experience, Lampkin isn’t a key cog of the Buffaloes’ offense but he knows how to pick his spots and he’ll likely be utilized against a Florida team that has had issues guarding physical centers all year long. While he can overwhelm opponents with his size, he does have some difficulty when it comes to handling double teams. Against Boise State he had 4 turnovers, making it the 14th game this season where he has had 3 or more turnovers. With 8 turnovers earlier in the season against Utah, he posted the highest turnover game by a center at the high-major level this season. That isn’t to say he can’t pass at all and he is known to make some great reads for smooth assists, but generally speaking he’s a player who struggles to handle pressure and will cough up the ball and you can bet the Gators will be sending double teams his way at some point. 


One area Colorado’s frontcourt wasn’t great was when it came to controlling the glass. Boise State finished with 19 offensive rebounds and if you’re the Gators, you have to be licking your lips seeing this. Yes, the Gators aren’t quite as good of an offensive rebounding team without Micah Handlogten (where they were 2nd best in the country at a 41% offensive rebound rate), but with Alex Condon on the floor the Gators had a 34% offensive rebound rate, equivalent to being the 33rd best offensive rebounding team in the country which is still tremendous. Boise State’s huge offensive rebounding performance could be an anomaly since the Buffaloes have been a good defensive rebounding team this season, but if the smaller Broncos can generate that level of offensive rebounding the Gators could be able to as well.


Colorado’s X-factor is the previously mentioned Cody Williams, a 6’8” freshman who oozes with talent but hasn’t yet seen his abilities realized in college. The flashes of big-time NBA shotmaking are there with 20+ point games against Oregon, Colorado State, and Pepperdine, but then there are also games where he’s somewhat invisible or somewhat damaging to the team’s success such as this game against Boise State where he had 0 points on 0-4 shooting in just 11 minutes of action. It’s clear that Williams doesn’t have the full trust of his coaching staff, but he’s also capable of going off for huge offensive performances on some nights (yes, this entire paragraph reads exactly like what the Gators have in Riley Kugel). 


For the Gators, the key to this game will be slowing down the KJ Simpson-Tristan Da Silva pick and roll. Colorado’s offense hasn’t exactly been lethal this year despite the tremendous play of Simpson, but this is one action that has been tremendous. Simpson can do a lot with the space generated by a ball screen with a popping big man, and if the defense wants to collapse on him Da Silva can heat up in a hurry.

Colorado doesn’t have a lot of defensive-minded guards and they have struggled against electric backcourts, and Florida’s might be the best guard tandem they have seen all year. Walter Clayton and Zyon Pullin will need to be relentless with their downhill attacking and not settle for early jumpers as they should be able to cause major issues for the Buffaloes.


It’s NCAA Tournament time, baby! Enjoy the madness.


Florida and Colorado will tip off at 4:30 ET time on Friday, March 22nd. It will be televised on TBS. 

Eric Fawcett
Eric is a basketball coach and writer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His work has been found at NBA international properties, ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericfawcett_.