Virginia takes on Florida this afternoon in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. In what's been a relatively tame March Madness so far, Cavalier fans everywhere are hoping that the lower seeds pull through today to cause a stir in the mix. To help us preview the Gators, we're joined by SB Nation's Florida site, Alligator Army. We asked them six juicy questions and in return answered a few of theirs, which you'll be able to catch on their site. As the game is just a few hours away, let's not waste any time.
Streaking the Lawn: Like Virginia, Florida's last 10 games was not exactly the finish one hopes for to an otherwise great season, having lost six of them. The Gators did put up an impressive three-point loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament. Can you pinpoint any one or two things that could be blamed for the six-of-ten finish?
Alligator Army: Will Yeguete's absence might be the most important thing to most Florida fans -- the 6'8" Frenchman is as relentless a rebounder as the Gators have had since Joakim Noah, and he was also a virtually egoless hustler, which made him a crowd darling. Florida's also played better competition of late: four of those losses came to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and three to the 'Cats, so none of those are particularly troubling, but the common problems in Florida losses this year, poor shooting and effort deficiencies, reared their heads in those games and perplexing losses to Tennessee and Georgia.
STL: Most Virginia fans probably haven't watched Florida play much, if at all. But it's glaringly obvious that this is going to be a battle between what Ken Pomeroy ranks as Florida's No. 3 offense in the country vs. Virginia's No. 5 defense in the country. Can you give us an overview of how Florida runs its offense and what the best way to defend them is?
AA: Florida runs a lot of ball screens on the wing. A lot. These will often turn into open threes for Erik Murphy, drives for its guards, and opportunities to reverse the ball to the other wing. Florida also tries to dump it low to Patric Young, sometimes only briefly, hoping for the big man to do work underneath in one-on-one situations, but that tactic is often underused or abandoned for stretches. The best thing teams can do to defend Florida is chase Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton off the three-point line; both can be lethal from range.
STL: Junior guard Kenny Boynton looks like he can shoot the ball from anywhere on the court, and in particular, from anywhere beyond the arc. He only got two points against Kentucky though -- what happened in that game that effectively neutralized him?
AA: Time was, Kenny would shoot the ball from anywhere on the court, but his shot selection has improved tremendously this season, making him one of the nation's most efficient players. But he's undersized, listed at 6'2" but probably nearer to 6'1", and can have problems with both creating his own shot and finishing in traffic as a result. Kentucky's length bothers all of the Gators who lack size (...which is essentially all of them), but Boynton and Walker suffer most.
STL: Oh you guys have a center. That must be nice. There was talk about sophomore Patric Young going pro this year, but it looks like that was squashed. Tell us a little bit about Florida's big men and what Virginia has to look forward to there.
AA: Young's the would-be bellcow who has all the potential in the world. At his healthiest and best, he's explosively athletic, deft in the post, and reminds many of the primordial version of Dwight Howard, though being 6'9" handicaps him against taller, longer foes; in his less-healthy current state, he struggles to play consistently effective defense or elevate. And if he stops getting fed, as is customary with Florida's shoot-happy backcourt, he can fall into funks.
Murphy, on the other hand, is less "big man" and more "enormous guard." He's taller than Young, and has a feathery jumper that has been money all year, but his defense has been a major flaw for the entirety of his three-year career; his excellent play against Terrence Jones in Florida's SEC Tournament loss to Kentucky was the sort of pleasant surprise that may be more like a mirage.
STL: The Gators got their blue and orange school colors from UVa in the 1800s. On a scale of 1-10, how grateful are you to us, and don't you think it's about high time you started thanking us a little more? You can start by handing us this game.
AA: 3, but we wear them better. And no. [Editor's Note: Ingrates.]
STL: Prediction time: who do you have and by how much?
Florida, by no more than six or seven. Let's say 69-63. [Editor's Note: This just appears factually inaccurate.]