Can the Florida Gators win the 2013 NCAA Tournament?

Joe Robbins

In this edition of Sunday Brunch, Andy and I talk about whether or not we believe the Gators can go through the NCAA Tournament unscathed and win the national championship.

FlaGators: Do I believe the Florida Gators men's basketball team win the national championship in April? Possibly, I think they've got just about a good a shot as anyone else. But do I think they will? Not a chance.

Why, you ask?

Well, for starters, I don't think they are as good as Indiana, Michigan, or Syracuse, who are my top three teams in a tournament format. I think the Gators are every bit as good as teams like Duke, Gonzaga, Louisville, Miami and Michigan State, but I just don't see them beating two or three of those top teams in the tournament to win the championship.

As for the other reasons why they won't win it all, well, rebounding comes to mind first. The Gators are currently 156th in the country (that can't be right, can it?) in team rebounds per game. One has to look no further than the game earlier this week against Missouri to see that if the Gators get out-rebounded like that, they lose.

Another reason why I don't think the Gators will be hoisting the championship trophy in early April is that, as of this writing the Gators are 0-3 in games decided by single digits this season. That's obviously not including getting blown out by Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena. I don't get into the whole home-away records things as much as most when it comes to college basketball, because every good team is great at home and somewhat terrible on the road (see Arkansas, for example). But when it comes to close games, you've got to figure out how to win those if you plan on making a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.

Thus far, the Gators haven't been able to do that.

Now having said all that, are there some factors that might help that Gators? The fact that they are ranked first in the KenPom ratings is nice, and so is their team field goal percentage of 49.3 percent, good for seventh nationally. Oh, and their SEC-leading 10 three-pointers a game are nice, too. But I just don't see anything to suggest that they can go on a run and defeat a bunch of high quality teams in a row.

As for who I think is going to win it all, Indiana getting Victor Oladipo back is huge and they are probably going to be my pick to win it all when I fill out my bracket because of that. But hey, during March April Madness, anything can happen, right?

For me, anything doesn't include the Gators winning the national championship.

Star-divide

Andy: Florida's recent struggles away from home and its year-long deficiencies in close games have poisoned the well of public opinion against a team that most advanced metrics think is the best or second-best team in the country.

It's not just KenPom, which has had the Gators No. 1 for more than a month, and has Florida's offense and defense both rated as top-three units. (No other team nationally has both units in the top 10.) Jeff Sagarin has the Gators No. 2 in his overall ratings, but No. 1 in his Predictor, which uses pure points, and Florida is second in ESPN's Basketball Power Index, which I don't really trust, but it's No. 1 in about as many ratings as not. And Team Rankings still gives Florida the best chance to win the whole NCAA Tournament.

Florida's got what gives any team a shot in any Tournament game, excellent three-point shooting, and it's got a fantastic defense that has only been exploited by teams dumb enough to take a slew of deep threes and lucky enough to make them. Those two things alone would make Florida formidable, but there's more than that, from Scottie Wilbekin's sure and unselfish point guard play to the brutal efficiency of Patric Young's offense when he is consistently establishing positioning and getting fed underneath. Florida has been so good all year, and yet has left pieces on the table that make me think it can be even better if it gets Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II back in full health.

I don't think Florida's quite as good as Indiana, but Indiana's offense hasn't seen a defense quite like Florida's — except for Wisconsin's, which held the Hoosiers to 59 points, their smallest output of the season. I think Florida has a better balance of offense and defense than any other team, and I think Florida's balance on offense (no position scores more than 20.5 or less than 18.8 percent of the Gators' points) makes it really hard to shut down.

I'm also not worried about the lack of a go-to player, which is what national pundits will bring up as Florida's weakness again and again, because I think the Gators are good enough to make close games rare, even in March, and smart enough to stick to their offense when things tighten up. And if the Gators really need a go-to guy, Mike Rosario could well be it.

Picking Florida to win the NCAA Tournament is still a hypothetical for me, because there are about three more weeks of games — data, really — to factor in, and because the bracket governs many of my picking principles. But I would have no qualms about taking the Gators to get to the Final Four as long as they're not in Indiana's bracket, and any team that gets to the Final Four can certainly cut down the nets in Atlanta.

And if you don't think Florida's good enough to make the Final Four in this crazy and wide-open year, I think you're just letting old traumas cloud your assessment of this year's team.

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