Only one thing stands between the Gophers and the second week of the tournament – the Florida Gators. Easy, right? Admittedly, I haven’t watched a whole lot of Florida basketball this year since the SEC is relatively inaccessible in these parts. To help give us a little idea who who the Gators are and what we can expect this evening, we got in touch with Andy Hutchins, editor of the Gators blog Alligator Army, to provide some insight.
Also, check out the input I provided for Alligator Army’s preview over at their site.
Game is at 5:10 p.m. tonight on TNT. Get after it!
1) The Gophers have had major trouble this year facing zone defenses. What sort of defense does Florida usually deploy and how effective is it?
AH: Florida doesn’t zone very often, but a 2-3 that works well was in its bag early in the season. If Florida doesn’t like what it’s able to do underneath against Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, it will probably switch from a stifling man-to-man to that zone.
But that stifling man-to-man, which sometimes turns into a 2-2-1 press in the full court, has been devastating this year, ranking second behind Louisville’s defense on a per-possession basis. Florida is known as an offensive team, but its defense has been its calling card this season.
2) What are expectations like in Gainesville? Do people think this team has a chance to make a deep run in tournament?
AH: I think most Florida fans know this team is good enough to get to the Final Four if things break right, but live in fear of things breaking wrong and Florida melting down in a close game. That’s happened too many times for fans to not be a little shell-shocked about that prospect.
3) Many Gopher fans haven’t had much of a chance to see Florida play this year. What are the Gators’ main strengths and weaknesses?
AH: Again, I think Florida’s strength is its defense, which limits good shots very well and tends not to foul while doing it, but Florida’s also got a great offense that relies on those same principles, taking bad shots rarely and making plenty of good ones.
4) What (or who), in your view, is Florida’s X-factor? Who do you think has the opportunity to make the biggest difference in the game?
AH: I think Billy Donovan’s ability to toggle between Mike Rosario and Casey Prather is the X-factor in this game, and probably for the entire tournament. Rosario’s a shooter and a driver, but is undersized for a player tasked with guarding small forwards; Prather’s a slasher with a mediocre midrange game, but stands 6’7″ and has the most leaping ability on the team, which comes in handy as a third forward. Rosario’s been sitting more of late, with Prather playing very well against Northwestern State, and though I think Rosario fits better against Minnesota’s roster, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prather make a couple of big plays.
5) What makes Florida most vulnerable? What do the Gophers need to do to pull this one off?
AH: Florida doesn’t do anything particularly badly, except reassure fans about its close game credentials, but the things I have been worried about defenses doing to Florida’s offense all year are pressing and extending on-ball defense above the arc. The pressing can often generate turnovers off the sometimes iffy ball-handling of Scottie Wilbekin, Kenny Boynton, and Rosario, while the extended defense disrupts Florida’s ball screens and doesn’t necessarily open up things for drivers.
If the Gophers can get a bunch of turnovers and avoid being rained on from three, they might well take Florida down.
6) What do the Gators need to do to win this game?
AH: I think Florida needs to contain Mbakwe and keep Andre Hollins from going off to win this game. Mbakwe seems to me like the emotional fulcrum of the Minnesota squad, and the person who takes the team to another level when on, while Hollins’ streaky shooting and tendency to jack threes (we have an Andre Hollins; his name is Kenny Boynton) is high-risk, high-reward stuff.
7) Prediction time: how do you see this game playing out?
AH: I have Florida winning, and probably by double figures. I don’t think Minnesota can do enough on defense to slow down the Gators, and I know there’s going to be a drought of some sort for the Gophers.