The Gators will begin their bid for a repeat as National Champions on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Their first obstacle towards this goal will be the Jackson State Tigers, the 2007 Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament Champions.
The game will be played in the New Orleans Arena, with the regional championship (if the Gators are lucky enough to get there) being played in St. Louis. Why St. Louis? Andy Staples has the answer in his blog:
"Basically, the mileage," Walters said in a teleconference. "It was a little bit of a push."
According to MapQuest, St. Louis (Midwest second weekend site) is 890.72 miles from Gainesville. San Antonio (South second weekend site) is 1,055.91 miles from Gainesville.
I'm sure most of us don't know one thing about our first NCAA tourney opponent, so I'll try to fill you in on how they did this season and how they may match up against our Gators.
The 2006-2007 Season
The Tigers of Jackson State clinched their bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the SWAC tournament championship, beating teams such as Southern University, Arkansas Pine-Bluff and their archrival, the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils. The tourney win gave the Tigers their first NCAA bid in seven seasons.
The Tigers are 21-13 on the season, including 12-6 in their conference schedule. Out of conference losses came at the hands of Alabama, Georgia Tech, Illinois and Memphis -- all on the road -- showing us that these guys are used to playing some pretty good competition in hostile environments. Unfortunately for our first round opponents, though, would be the fact that their average margin of defeat in these games was 31 points.
They also lost games at Rutgers and at Tulsa, but came out with a big OOC win against the UTEP Miners in a 100-97 shootout.
I think the term "key player" is defined by a guy like Tigers' guard Trey Johnson, who takes 36% of his teams shots on average, while playing an average of close to 38 minutes. Playing that many minutes per game is pretty impressive.
And what makes it even more impressive is the way he translates those minutes and shots into production on the stats sheet. Johnson has averaged 27.1 points per game, a number that isn't rivaled by many others in college basketball -- as it is the second best scoring average in division one hoops. He is the only player on the Tigers to average in double-figures scoring on the season.
In their win over UTEP this season, Johnson scored 49 points. In an 81-73 win over SE Louisiana, he had 33. In an 86-70 win over Alcorn State he had 34. With those numbers being known, the word "explosiveness" comes to mind.
Stat Match Up
Points Per Game
UF: 79.3 / Opp: 61.8
JS: 71.2 / Opp: 72.4
UF: .527 / Opp: .404
JS: .419 / Opp: .444
3 pt FG Percentage
UF: .408 / Opp: .287
JS: .314 / Opp: ..340
Offensive Efficiency - #
UF: 118.0 (1st)
JS: 98.9 (230th)
Defensive Efficiency - #
UF: 91.4 (7th)
JS: 99.6 (107th)
Predicting This Game
While Trey Johnson is an impressive player and has put up some big numbers during the '06-'07 Jackson State run, his Tigers will be going up against a Florida team hungry for a repeat. Jackson State does not throw too many more out there that can be looked at as dangerous.
Johnson has carried his team all season long, but can he do anything too impressive against a very oversized, intense and solid Gators defense? If the answer to that question is no, then this game could get extemely ugly, extremely quickly.
Florida will win this game, and that's obvious, but the question should be by how much? I'd say that the outcome will be a margin of at least 30 points.
This could be a good time to get a few of those freshman worked into the lineup at some point during the 40 minutes to get them prepped for future tourney games.
# - Raw numbers. For adjusted numbers check out Kenpom.com