The NCAA Tournament features a large universe of possibilities but a small neighborhood of likelihoods. The Florida Gators are not likely to make the Final Four, and no one is saying or even suggesting they are. However, if you were to look for a big-time surprise in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, you could do worse than put forth the Gators as a shock artist.
Do remember: Picking a surprise is just that — a surprise pick, not a percentage pick or an expected pick. This is not something done with a mindset which says, “Of course Florida will win.” The thought process is more akin to this: “I don’t trust this team and don’t carry high expectations for it, but if it ever gets things figured out and becomes strong at its weakest points, it could do a lot of damage.”
This is the ceiling of possibility Florida could reach.
You have to understand this about the Gators: They consistently played strong defense this season. They played excellent defense for roughly 30 minutes against Kentucky and Tennessee at home before their offense withered on the vine in the final 10. They played two overtime games against SEC champion LSU and won two of three in the season series, both times away from Gainesville.
Florida doesn’t have a low-post hammer the way the 2017 South Carolina Gamecocks did with Chris Silva, but the Gators could catch fire on the perimeter the way the Gamecocks’ 2017 backcourt did in March. If the defense remains at a high level, Florida could replicate the South Carolina formula, starting from a 7-versus-10 first-round game and going all the way to the Final Four.
That South Carolina team played an up-tempo first-round game against Marquette, something Florida would probably want to avoid against Nevada, but as the 2017 NCAA Tournament went on, South Carolina grew stronger and stronger at the defensive end of the floor. In the 2017 East Regional in New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Gamecocks were stifling against Baylor (Sweet 16) and Florida (Elite 8).
A team which had wobbled late in the regular season (sound familiar, Gators?) got through its first-round test, gained confidence, and then roared into its best form of the whole season, powered by a defense which didn’t miss a step. South Carolina gave Gonzaga a substantial challenge in the national semifinals in Glendale, Arizona, before ultimately falling short.
No one who watched the Gamecocks at the 2017 SEC Tournament left Championship Week thinking this was a Final Four team. Similarly, no one would look at Florida in 2019 and think the Gators are ready to win four games. I don’t think — and am not saying — that UF is READY.
I am, however, saying Florida has the ABILITY to do something special.
Of all the surprises which might exist in a universe of possibilities at the NCAA Tournament, Florida getting on a roll would hardly be the most ludicrous notion of all.
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