UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Flyers present Gators' latest hurdle to Final Four
Published: Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 10:35 p.m.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Through a school-record 29-game winning streak, Florida coach Billy Donovan has gotten his team to believe what's past is passe, what matters most is the next possession in front of them.
Who: Florida Gators (35-2) vs. Dayton Flyers (26-10)
When: 6:09 p.m.
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn.
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
Now comes Donovan's biggest challenge of the season — surpassing the Elite Eight hurdle.
The top-seeded Gators (35-2) will be heavy favorites when they face Dayton (26-10) on Saturday at the FedEx Forum. But Florida is all too familiar with that role. In 2011, second-seeded Florida was a big favorite against eighth-seeded Butler in the Elite Eight, only to let an 11-point second-half lead whittle away in a 74-71 overtime loss. In 2012, the seventh-seeded Gators were a more modest (1-point) favorite against fourth-seeded Louisville, but couldn't hold an 11-point second-half lead in a 72-68 Elite Eight loss.
Last season, the third-seeded Gators were never in the game, losing 79-59 to fourth-seeded Michigan as a three-and-a-half point favorite.
Butler and Michigan both went on to lose in NCAA title games, while Louisville lost to Kentucky in the 2012 Final Four. The matchup against 11th-seeded Dayton represents UF's best chance to break through and reach the Final Four for the first time since 2007. Noted ESPN statistical analyst Nate Silver listed the probability of Florida winning the game at 83 percent.
Donovan is preaching the motto that this is a “new” Florida team even though core seniors Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete were either on the floor or on the bench for UF's three prior painful season-ending losses.
“This is its own separate team,” Donovan said. “This team has not played in the Elite Eight last year. This is, in actuality, our first Elite Eight as a team. Now Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin and Prather and some of those guys were here, but also a lot of those guys weren't in the roles they're in right now.”
Florida enters this matchup with three new starters — including sophomore Michael Frazier II at shooting guard, Prather at small forward and Yeguete at power forward. Also, the Gators didn't have sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (who sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules), freshman point guard Kasey Hill and freshman forward Chris Walker available off the bench.
“Everybody knows about our past,” Yeguete said. “I think we played a really good team the last two years and we just have a different team. I think we just need to bring the energy we've been bringing in the tournament and stay connected.”
Young acknowledged the Gators could take lessons from their previous three Elite Eight losses.
“The lesson from the first two games was we didn't finish the game, because we had leads going into the downhill part of the game, and other teams were just able to make better plays,” Young said. “The third game, I don't know what it was. (We) didn't come out ready to play.
“We're not going to let the past haunt us because it has no bearing. Of course, we're going to learn from it, but going forward, we're going to get ready for the next team, the Dayton Flyers. We know they're an exceptionally good team, very similar to us in they're a team that really utilizes one another.”
Scrappy Dayton is most reminiscent of Butler, with an up-and-coming third-year coach (Archie Miller), who like former Butler coach Brad Stevens, has taken an unconventional approach to pull off tournament upset wins over Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford. The Flyers take and make a lot of 3-pointers (6.5 3-pointers per game, 37.5 percent from 3-point range) and defend the 3-point line well, holding opposing teams to 33.2 percent from the 3-point line. Miller, the younger brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, uses a rotation of 11 players in an effort to wear opposing teams down.
“I know it's been a feel good story, but a lot of our guys believe in each other, and that's always a good sign,” Miller said.
But the Gators also enter the matchup with strong belief, particularly when adversity hits. Florida is 7-1 in games decided by five points or less and 14-2 in games decided by single digits. Wilbekin has become a go-to scorer down the stretch, something the Gators lacked in their previous three Elite Eight appearances. But Wilbekin said the biggest difference in UF's late-game execution has resulted in a team-first approach.
“The biggest thing we've learned, I don't know if it's only from the Elite Eight games, but from our first three years here, is how important it is to stay in the moment and stay connected as a team,” Wilbekin said. “I think since the year has started, we've done a good job just doing that, so we're just carrying that with us.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 13.1 ppg, 3.7 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr. 14.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg
DAYTON PROBABLE STARTERS
G Jordan Sibert 6-4 So. 12.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg
G Khari Price 5-11 So. 6.4 ppg, 1.8 apg
F Dyshawn Pierre 6-4 So. 11.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg
F Devin Oliver 6-7 Sr. 11.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg
C Matt Kavanaugh 6-10 Sr. 5.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Notes: Florida is making its 17th NCAA tournament appearance in school history and 14th under Billy Donovan (NCAA tournament appearances in 1987 and 1988 were vacated due to sanctions). The Gators are 38-14 all-time in the NCAA tournament and 34-11 under Donovan. The 18th-year Florida coach has led UF to its seventh Elite Eight appearance. Donovan is 3-3 in Elite Eight games, with wins over Oklahoma State, Villanova and Oregon and losses against Butler, Louisville and Michigan. … It's the first meeting between Florida and Dayton, an Atlantic 10 school. The Gators are 12-9 all-time against A-10 teams and 5-2 under Donovan. … With 115 3-pointers, Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II holds UF's all-time record for 3-pointers made in a season. Frazier made five 3-pointers against UCLA to pass Lee Humphrey, who made 113 3-pointers in both 2006 and 2007. … Dayton is vying to make the Final Four for the first time since 1967. The Flyers are making their third appearance in the Elite Eight and their first since 1984. Former UF assistant and current Alabama head coach Anthony Grant was a guard on the 1984 Dayton team. … Third-year Dayton coach Archie Miller is the first coach from the school to win his first three NCAA tournament games. … Florida's seniors have won 119 games, the most in school history. … The Gators have outrebounded their last two opponents (Pittsburgh and UCLA) by an average margin of 8.5.
Three things to watch
1. Florida's press
Dayton has struggled at times against pressure. The Flyers average 12 turnovers a game and turned the ball over 18 times against VCU, whose coach, former UF assistant Shaka Smart, runs a press similar to the Gators. VCU scored 28 points against the Flyers. So expect Florida to press early and often to try to rattle Dayton's guards and get the game going up and down the floor.
2. Guarding the 3-point line
Dayton is capable of getting on a roll with its 3-point shooters. The Flyers are shooting 37.5 percent from 3-point range this season and have made an average of 7.5 3-pointers in their last two games. It will be important for the Gators to aggressively guard the perimeter, even if it means sacrificing some points inside. “They are all great at shooting 3s,” Florida senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said of Dayton's guards. “They have great percentages. They do a good job getting in the lane. They are active on defense … it's going to be a challenge to match up with them and stick with it for the whole 40 minutes.”
3. Bench play
Dayton plays a rotation that's 11 players deep, and the Flyers took advantage of that depth by outscoring Stanford 34-2 in bench points. Dayton coach Archie Miller said his team's depth has allowed the Flyers to withstand foul trouble throughout the tournament. Dayton senior guard Vee Sanford, a former starter, is averaging 9.7 points per game off the bench. Florida's bench also stepped up against UCLA with Patric Young and Casey Prather in foul trouble. Dorian Finney-Smith had 10 points, freshman Chris Walker had seven points and freshman point guard Kasey Hill chipped in with six points and 10 assists. The bench that plays better Saturday could determine the outcome of the game. “We just have to step up whenever our name is called,” Hill said.