Let’s do this…
Dan: Based on the stats, this Florida team seems to be very balanced on offense and defense. Can you help us out with telling the strengths and weaknesses of this Gator squad?
Eric: As much as Florida’s boom-or-bust offensive potential has been talked about this season it’s their top-20 KenPom defense that has kept them in games long enough for senior point guard Chris Chiozza and redshirt-junior wing Jalen Hudson to greatest enough offense to win. Though undersized the Gators are very quick to the basketball and force teams deep into the shot clock. There is a definitely weakness to the defense and it’s their ability to guard in space. Though a connected squad in team defense concepts the Gators actually lack elite perimeter defenders and can really struggle to keep teams out of the paint. On offense Florida has some elite shotmakers in Jalen Hudson, KeVaughn Allen, and Egor Koulechov but none of those players are particularly adept at driving the basketball. Without the ability to generate layups, Florida is extremely reliant on the jump shot.
Dan: It looks like the addition of Egor Koulechov from Rice has really helped the roster. Who are the players Texas Tech fans should become familiar with in this matchup and what are their advantages?
Eric: Koulechov has brought a unique piece to the roster, a gritty 6’5″ wing who defensive rebounds amongst the trees and is lethal on catch and shoot plays. Chris Chiozza is the most important Gator spearheading the defense and orchestrating nearly every offensive set and he sits on the Bob Cousy award finalist list alongside Keenan Evans. Jalen Hudson has the most explosive potential and his ability to shoot off the dribble has frustrated defense all season.
Dan: Florida has some impressive wins under their belt – Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Auburn, and twice against Kentucky. What would you consider the Gators biggest win on the season and how did they come away with that victory?
Eric: Though beating Cincinnati on a neutral floor is probably their best win on paper, I think their most outstanding victory was a 111-105 win against Gonzaga in Portland at the Phil Knight Invitational tournament. Jalen Hudson was the best version of himself in this one, single handedly willing the Gators to victory.
Dan: The Gators made their appearance in the Elite Eight last year during March Madness. Is this basketball team on the same level as that squad, or are there pieces missing from the Florida team we watched last season?
Eric: Last year’s team had more size, versatility, and defensive intensity that made them a lot more consistent and matchup-proof than this year’s iteration. This year’s team has better shotmaking and can heat up in a way last year’s team couldn’t, but I would consider last year’s team superior to this one. Florida would love to have 6’9″ Devin Robinson or 6’8″ Justin Leon on this year’s team to add a level of toughness, rebounding, and perimeter defense they have lacked.
Dan: Fun stuff time… what do the Florida fans think about Texas Tech and playing against the Red Raiders in Dallas?
Eric: Florida fans have watched their teams have some high heights and cavernous lows this season and it has made them pretty nervous to play any elite competition. Florida’s offense has gotten stagnant this year and fans are fully aware of Texas Tech’s world class defense and there is definite fear of the Red Raiders suffocating the Gators defensively. Florida fans also wouldn’t consider their team to be particularly tough mentally or physically and with the chip on the shoulder mentally Texas Tech plays with the fans are rightfully nervous the Gators are going to get themselves into a street fight and lose.
Dan: What is your prediction in this 2nd round NCAA Tournament game?
Eric: I think whoever is better between Keenan Evans and Chris Chiozza could very well win the game for their squad, but if it remains tight I think Florida’s shotmaking could win out. I have to be a homer here, and I apologize for it, but I’ll have to say the Gators win 67-65 after a Keenan Evans attempts at the buzzer where he probably was fouled by KeVaughn Allen spills out. If the Red Raiders are to win, it will definitely be due to their huge advantage in toughness and grittiness.