#1 Florida vs. #4 UCLA
How Florida made it here:
The first two rounds have been business as usual for the Gators. The team faced very little adversity on their way to double digit wins against both Albany and Pittsburgh. Their first round game against Albany was closer than most expected it to be but it looked to be more that the team was sleepwalking though that game and looking ahead to their second round game against Pitt. Billy Donovan was none too pleased with the team’s lackluster performance and told his team as much after the game. Against the Great Danes, the team looked sloppy and uninterested for much of the first half. For a team that hadn’t seemed to take any game/team lightly during the regular season, the Gators allowed Albany to keep it close at the half before getting it all together during a second half run that sealed the deal. Against Pitt, the Gators looked more themselves, especially guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier who combined for just 13 points in their first round game. The duo bounced back with 31 points against the Panthers while taking control of the game early in the first half. The Gators took advantage of a Pitt team that had struggled to score all season long and held them to 45 points on 37% shooting while cruising to a 16 point win that was seemed like a 20+ point game to anyone that was watching.
How UCLA made it here:
Much like the Florida, UCLA had a fairly easy path to the Sweet 16. The Bruins made short work of Danny Manning’s Tulsa squad, turning them over 16 times in the game and cruising to a 17 point win against a team that just couldn’t hang with the Bruins from a talent or depth perspective. Jordan Adams was the best player on the court for most of the night and it was clear from the opening tip that no one on the Tulsa roster could guard him. In the second round, the Bruins again faced a double digit seed after Stephen F. Austin’s upset of VCU in the first round. The Lumberjacks came in on a 29 game winning streak but were no match for the size and length of Steve Alford’s squad. The Bruins shot over 50% from the field and took advantage of their size on the offensive end, getting pretty much any shot they wanted. Again it was the aforementioned Adams that was the key for the Bruins but not without contributions from both Normal Powell and Kyle Anderson who were both magnificent on both ends of the floor. And if you didn’t see Powell’s layup where he made the Lumberjack defenders look like parking cones then you need to YouTube it.
Key to the game:
This game will come down to which team can impose their will on the other. You’ve got the #3 defensive team in the country taking on the #9 offensive team in the country. One of those two will have to give. UCLA likes to play at a fast pace as to where Florida is comfortable slowing things down and grinding, using the shot clock and making sure they get the best shot they can. As is the case with most Tournament games, turnovers will be the key. If UCLA can create turnovers then they can get out in transition, get the ball in Anderson’s hands on the break and allow him to make things happen. If Florida can create the turnovers then they can do the same but it gives them a chance to set up their defense off of those made baskets. Protecting the ball will be one thing that both coaches stress over the next few days.
Matchup to watch:
Due to the matchup problem that Anderson creates, I don’t see Wilbekin guarding him for most of the game. I could see Casey Prather drawing that assignment due to his extra length and then having Wilbekin guard Adams who is the Bruins’ best offensive player. Wilbekin gets after you defensively and is one of the best on ball defenders in the country. UCLA is 23-1 when Adams scores 15 or more points compared to only 5-6 when he is held to below that number. If Wilbekin can lock down Adams on the wing and not let him get comfortable then this will be the Gators’ game to lose. On the other hand, if Adams gets hot early, gets some confidence and knocks down a few early jumpers then UCLA could be the team to end Florida’s 28 game win streak.
The Gators have imposed their will on every team in the country this season. If it weren’t for a heroic last second shot by Shabazz Napier earlier in the season and an injury to Wilbekin against Wisconsin then we would be talking about the Gators as a currently undefeated team and one of the best team’s of all time. They are the most complete team in college basketball and are on a mission. That mission is a the team’s 3rd National Championship in the last 10 seasons. They have an experienced group of players, all of which have bought into Billy Donovan’s offensive and defensive schemes. Each and every player on the team knows their role, has accepted that role and plays it to the best of their ability. While UCLA has the athletes to stay with the Gators in the wing, there are serious concerns at how well the Bruins will be able to handle Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Dorian Finney-Smith in the paint and on the glass.
#11 Dayton vs. #10 Stanford
How Dayton made it here:
The Flyers have cemented themselves as this year’s Cinderella team. Archie Miller’s squad upset in-state rival Ohio State in the first game of the Tournament. Normally fans love an upset but this particular upset ruined over 80% of brackets submitted for Warren Buffett’s Billion Dollar Perfect Bracket Challenge barely two hours into the Tournament. Dayton took advantage of an Ohio State team that had almost zero low post scoring and who had underachieved for most of the season. Aaron Craft almost broke Dayton’s hearts with a layup that put the Buckeyes up one with 15 seconds left but the Flyers wouldn’t be denied as Vee Sanford sealed the deal with a layup of his own with just under 4 seconds remaining. Again, against Syracuse, the Flyers took advantage of a team that struggled to score in the paint and kept their magical run going with a two point win against the Orange. The ‘Cuse game, much like the Ohio State game came down to who could make the last play and for the second straight game it was the Flyers as Tyler Ennis‘s shot at the buzzer clanked off of the front iron.
How Stanford made it here:
If it weren’t for Dayton, this Stanford team would be wearing the Cinderella slipper. Johnny Dawkins’ squad looked to be dead in the water after their loss at home to Colorado on March 5th. They won 3 out of their next 4 games and barely squeaked into the Big Dance where they drew New Mexico where they raced out to a big early lead but let the Lobos back in it late as they got into foul trouble which changed the complexion of the game. If it weren’t for some clutch free throw shooting and a hot shooting night from Chasson Randle the Cardinals might not have made it past the first round. In the round of 32 awaited #2 seed Kansas with their freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins. The Cardinals shut Wiggins down and never allowed him to get into any flow offensively. Randle had another big night offensively scoring 13 points and leading the way for his team en route to the biggest win in Coach Dawkins’ career as a head coach and the schools biggest win in the NCAAT in over 7 years.
Key to the game:
The Cardinals aren’t a deep team. The Flyers are. If Dayton can get one or two of Stanford’s players, Powell in particular, into foul trouble then this game becomes that much more winnable. Powell has had trouble staying out of foul trouble at times this season and will have to make a conscious effort to try and limit his fouls, especially those he makes 20 feet away from the basket. He hasn’t shown an ability to keep himself on the floor thus far in the tournament and I see that trend continuing as the Flyers will make it a point to attack the paint whenever they see Powell standing there.
Matchup to watch:
Dwight Powell vs. Matt Cavanaugh
Cavanaugh might not bring you much in the way of scoring but he will be counted on and relied heavily upon to make Cardinal’s big man Powell to work on both ends of the floor. Anyone who has watched Stanford this season will tell you that they are a completely different team when the two headed monster of Randle and Powell both have it going. It gives the team that inside-outside combination that a lot of teams only hope for. We saw it in both of Stanford’s games so far in the Tournament that when Powell goes to the bench for a breather or for foul trouble, the team just isn’t the same. That’s when New Mexico clawed back into things and it is what kept things close against Kansas. Powell has to stay out of foul trouble and it will be up to Cavanaugh to make him work on the defensive end, become more of a scorer and take it to Powell so that he has to expend energy on the defensive end of the floor.
Neither of these teams were expected to make it this far which means they are both playing on house money. Stanford will have the best two players on the court in Randle and Dwight Powell and in games such as this it is always a safe bet to go with the team with the most talented overall player. That being said, Dayton has been somewhat of a Giant Killer during this tournament and can’t be overlooked. They have the deeper of the two teams and if they can get Stanford to go to their bench early then they will have the advantage. The key for Stanford will be their ability to stay out of foul trouble which hurt them down the stretch in their game against New Mexico. Neither of these teams are going to shoot the lights out and both like to play games in the mid-60’s which benefits Dayton. With the way both of these teams are playing, this game could go either way. Neither team is THAT much better than the other and both teams seem to be peaking at the right time. Most brackets were burned when they didn’t pick Dayton the first go round so I won’t be making that mistake again.
Final Four Prediction
The Gators are just too complete of a team and are too much for any of the remaining teams to handle. Their Sweet 16 matchup against UCLA is realistically their Elite 8 game seeing as how they are too talented for both Stanford or Dayton, their potential Elite 8 matchup opponents. Florida has been the best team in the country all season and they haven’t shown any signs of slowing up at this point. They played an unbelievable game against a really good Pitt team on Saturday and look poised to make a run at more than just a Final Four appearance.
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