I understand some Gator fans were worried about playing Pittsburgh Saturday. After all, Florida had sleep-walked through an uncomfortable win over play-in 16-seed Albany in their opener while the Panthers annihilated the higher-seeded Boulder Buffs. But the game was never in doubt. It was a simple matter of math. Florida was playing for its fourth-straight Sweet 16 appearance. Three just doesn’t go into 16 evenly, so it was a streak that was simply not going to end, as a matter of algebra.
The Gators were playing for the distinction of being all alone in second place in school history for wins in a season, with 34, wedging itself between the 2006 team (33) and the 2007 team (35). They were playing to extend their own school record for consecutive games to 28. They were playing to set the new record for most wins for a senior class at Florida with 118. They were playing to extend the longest streak of consecutive Sweet 16 appearances in the nation.
Lose to Pittsburgh in the Round of 32?
It just didn’t add up.
What the Pittsburgh Game Showed Us
After the Albany snoozer, the consensus was that if the Gators were going to win the national championship, or even make a deep tourney run, they would have to show us something against Pitt. And they did. They showed the energy level, quickness, intensity, focus and sheer will that drove them to win the previous 27-straight and a half dozen before that. And their performance showed us a few other things that went a long way towards calming the jitters in Gator Nation.
It showed that Billy Donovan always knows the right buttons to push for his teams, but especially for this team that takes the coaching so well.
It showed that the Albany game was indeed an aberration, as we had all hoped. The team had not lost its spark, its focus or its mojo.
It showed us that this team is still a complete team where every night a new player will take center stage.
It showed us once again that the SEC POY just might be the best all around player in the country.
It showed us that this team still does not know how to lose.
It showed us that the Gator boys are still hot.
More to the Pitt Win than Meets the Worrying Eye
Regardless of those great reveals Saturday, most fans stayed nervous throughout the contest against the Panthers, and the aftermath of much of that fret and stress was even more concern that the Gators did not blow the game open any of the several times when it appeared as if they had the opportunity.
I understand being worried during the game. In hoops, it’s almost impossible, except in straight blowouts. But in retrospect, there should be no worries about their inability to secure a blowout. Again the truth is in the math. Here are a few comforting numbers to consider when you think of how tough it was to run up the score on Pitt.
The following are Pitt’s only losses on the season:
12/17 #5-seed Cincinnati by 1
2/12 #1/#3-seed Syracuse by 2
3/15 #6/#1-seed UVA by 3
1/2 #1-seed UVA by 3
2/15 #6-seed UNC by 4
1/18 #2/#3-seed Syracuse by 5
2/23 FSU by 5
3/3 #12-seed NCSU by 7
1/27 #17/#2-seed Duke by 15
Every team but FSU was an NCAA tourney team, and FSU was the last team out of the tournament and the #1 seed of the NIT.
Only one of the Panthers’ losses was by double-digits, and only 4 other losses were by more than one possession. The other 4 losses were single-possession games. They never got blown out and only lost one time where they were out of the game in the final minute.
Their final loss of the season:
3/22 #1/#1 seed Florida by 16
Some math around their loss to Florida:
*It was their biggest margin of loss on the season.
*It was only their second double-digit loss of the season.
*UF held them to 27.5 points below their season scoring average.
*The 45 points was the second-lowest point total they were held to for the year, dating to their 43 points against Cincinnati way back on December 17. Those 45 points was a 32-point reversal over their opening round score against higher seeded Colorado, and in fact one point less than they scored in the first half against the Buffs.
*Conversely, Florida matched Pitt’s defensive average points allowed on the season, so the Panthers’ stellar defense was significantly out-played by Florida’s. Florida’s offense scored 13 points more that Pitt surrendered in their opening round game.
Glad to be Playing UCLA
While Stephen F. Austin may be a lesser opponent, and perhaps an easier path the Elite 8 for the Gators, I am for one glad they will be playing the Bruins. If the Gators advance to the Elite 8, whichever team comes out of the Stanford-Dayton game will not give them a significant challenge. Therefore, it won’t be a particularly good preparation contest for the Final Four. Should they reach the Final Four, I want the Gators to get the most benefit out of the next two games to keep them frosty and at the cutting edge of their game. I think UCLA will give them that opportunity more so than would SFA.
Besides, good things happen when Florida plays the Bruins in the tournament. The Gators have played UCLA 3 times in the past, all in the NCAA tourney. And they have won each game. The first two wins in the Final Four led to national titles in 2006 and 2007. The third win in the Round of 32 led to an Elite 8 appearance in 2011. This is 4-straight Sweet 16s for the Gators, playing to reach their 4th-straight elite 8, going for their fourth-straight NCAA tournament win against UCLA to propel them to greatness at the end of the tourney?
Just do the math.
But Can They Win Four More?
Florida certainly can win it all. That much is certain. Whether or not they do claim their third crystal trophy will be left up to the team, their opponents and probably a few bounces of fate. However, some of the math suggests good tidings.
The Gators secured their 34th win of the season against Pittsburgh. The program has only had two other seasons of 30 wins or more in their history, and each of those years ended with a national title (2006, 2007).
This is the fourth season in school history where the Gators have been ranked #1 in the land during the season. They are now 9-0 playing as the #1 team, assuring them of finishing with a winning record as a #1. The only other time they had a winning record as a #1 team, they went on to win the national title (2007).
The UCLA game will be the 15th NCAA tournament game for teammates Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin. That ties the school record also held by teammates Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard, whose 15th NCAA tournament game was the national title game victory over Ohio State in 2007.
The team is focusing some of their UCLA prep time this week on getting more open three point attempts, particularly for Michael Frazier II. If he makes just three treys in the UCLA game, it will tie Lee Humphrey for the UF single-season record for three-pointers with 113. He set that record in 2006, and then tied it in 2007. Both seasons of course brought home the national title.
Every good math quiz has one.
Finally, if you are watching the other contenders in the tournament and getting nervous about how well some teams are playing, like Virginia, Michigan State, Michigan, heck even Kentucky and Tennessee, and are concerned that Florida may not really be as good as its # 1 ranking and #1 seeding, because perhaps they have been shielded from losses while playing in the largely unappreciated SEC this season, here is a little more math to soothe the nerves: a comparison of Sweet 16 teams by conference.
SEC (3 teams in the tourney): 3 teams in the Sweet 16 (combined record: 7-0, 1.000)
PAC-12 (5): 3 (7-2, .778)
Big 10 (5): 3 (6-2, .750)
AAC (4): 2 (5-2, .714)
Big 12 (7): 2 (6-5, .545)
MWC (2): 1 (2-1, .667)
Big East (2): 0 (2-2, .500)
ACC (6): 1 (5-5, .500)
Atlantic 10 (6): 1 (3-5, .375)
Methinks the SEC was just a tad underrated this season.