The Hoos head into the NCAA tournament coming off a bad stretch. They've lost 6 of 10, including a couple of home games and their ACC quarterfinal matchup against NC State. When looking at possible matchups, the Hoos didn't want to face a hot team. Florida State and NC State have been hot, and have beaten the Hoos in close games by executing better down the stretch. UNC did the same thing, but they've basically been hot for 30 years.
Getting the Florida Gators is just what the doctor ordered. They've also lost 6 out of their last 10, including 4 of their last 5. Their sole win was a quarterfinal matchup in the SEC tournament over Alabama. Early in the season, Florida had some good wins over FSU and Vanderbilt, along with close losses to Ohio State and Syracuse.
The Gators are 5-6 on the season against teams in the tourney. The Hoos are 2-6. The teams have 2 common opponents, FSU and LSU. The Hoos lost twice to FSU, while the Gators blew them out early in the season. The Hoos beat LSU in Baton Rouge, while the Gators beat them in Gainesville. Both teams were significantly better at home than on the road, with the Gators finishing 9-8 away from Gainesville and 14-2 at home. The Hoos, meanwhile, were 9-6 away from home and 13-3 at home.
OK, that's enough background information. How will it all look on the court?
One of the biggest weaknesses we have right now is a lack of depth. Because of the injuries to Assane Sene and Malcolm Brogdon, as well as a couple of mid-season transfers, we only have 7 scholarship players available. Well, Florida only really goes 8 deep. Because of a couple of injuries, their top 6 have had to log heavy minutes in some games. The Gators are relatively healthy now, but even so there are 8 guys who play a majority of the minutes.
In Florida's 23 wins, they shot 41% from 3 and 48% overall. In their losses, they shot just 34% from 3 and just 42% overall. This may seem obvious, and I suppose it is. I mean, if you shoot the ball well, you probably win. I bring it up to show just how reliant Florida is on their ability to shoot the ball. None of their other numbers are significantly different between the wins and losses. Their offensive rebounding is about the same (actually higher in losses, but that may be due to more missed shots). Assists and points are lower in the losses, but that is related to the fewer made shots.
The obvious question is here is, how does Virginia compare? Well, I've got the answer for you. The disparity in shooting between the wins and losses was actually more dramatic for the Hoos. In their 22 wins, the Hoos shot 48% from the field and 38% from the 3 point line. In 9 losses, the Hoos shot just 40% from the field and a pathetic 24% from the 3 point line.
So, why do I bring this statistic up? The reason is defense. The Hoos are a defensive team. They pride themselves on being able to stop their opponents. For the season, the Hoos are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, ranking 5th in defensive efficiency. They are 47th in the nation in opposing FG% and 12th in opposing 3pt%. Florida, on the other hand, is 133rd in opposing FG% and 226th in opposing 3pt%.
So, while Florida is a team that generally shoots the ball well (#8 nationally in effective FG%), they will be up against the best defensive team they've faced this year (Virginia is #17 nationally in opposing effective FG%). While the Hoos do need to shoot well to win, they aren't a team that generally shoots as well (just 91st in effective FG%), and will be facing a team that doesn't really play defense (Florida was 193rd in opposing effective FG%).
Florida also isn't a team that gets to the line very much. They actually got there more in their wins, but even so, they score just 17% of their points from the charity stripe, ranking 302nd in the nation (thanks kenpom.com!). They also do not send teams to the line very much, which takes away a possible advantage the Hoos have at the foul stripe.
One thing that has been discussed is the fact that the Gators play a much faster pace than the Hoos and will look to control the tempo of the game. But the numbers actually don't agree with this. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Gators pace is only marginally faster than the Hoos. While, the Gators do play a heavy guard lineup, and do shoot a lot of 3s, they only average about 4 possessions per game more than the Hoos and are still among the slower teams in the country.
One of the problems the Hoos have had in their losses is turnovers. When the Hoos lost an early season game to TCU, they turned the ball over 19 times. They also turned it over 35 times in two games against Florida State. Good defensive teams, and teams that can supply full court pressure have given the Hoos fits. Florida is not one of these teams. As I mentioned, they are average (at best) defensively and they are similarly terrible at forcing turnovers. The Hoos play a defense that is based on positioning and rotating, and not forcing turnovers, and yet still force a lot more turnovers than the Gators do.
Neither one of these teams turns the ball over much. Neither one of these teams is particularly good on the offensive glass. Neither one of these teams gets to the line much. Florida has the advantage on the perimeter with its guard heavy lineup. Virginia has the advantage in the low post with Mike Scott. These teams match up pretty well with each other, and the game is basically a toss up.
The outcome of this game will be determined by whether Florida's #2 ranked offense came overcome Virginia's #5 ranked defense and whether Virginia's middling offense can get hot against Florida's middling defense. Basically, it's going to come down to whether Florida can hit more contested jumpshots than Virginia can hit open jumpshots.
I like our chances.