Part preview, part soul cleanse.
Are you worried about Florida's ability to play basketball without embarrassing itself? Will Marshall Henderson getting
gift free throws and a three off an uncalled goaltend the chutzpah to landshark and Gator Chomp his way past Florida haunt your dreams for months? Do you look at Florida's draw in the 2013 NCAA Tournament in fear and worry that Florida will lose to any team it plays?
Then this, friends, is for you. Here is your reasoning for why Florida will lose to every team in the South Region, in chronological and threat order — for example, should Florida somehow get to the Elite Eight, Western Kentucky will be threatening, but not as threatening as the teams Florida has to beat to get there.
Round of 64
No. 14 Northwestern State
Northwestern State is the highest-scoring team in the country puts up 81.0 points per game, and does so on a staggering 72.9 possessions per game, good enough to get their offense solidly within the top 100 offenses in the nation in terms of efficiency at 105.4 points per 100 possessions.
Ignore that the Demons are the sixth-worst team in the field according to KenPom (only four No. 16 seeds, Albany, and Montana are worse), and that their defense is fourth-worst in the field, and that they have just two players over 6'4" averaging more than 16 minutes per game: A better Northwestern State team that didn't play as fast (but was slightly more efficient on offense rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Iowa as a No. 14 seed in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, and so Florida is clearly going to fall to a different team with completely different personnel despite being much better than that Iowa team was. Florida chokes. It's fate.
Round of 32
No. 11 Minnesota
No one believes UCLA, which is allergic to rebounding, will get past a rugged Minnesota team that leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and knocked off Indiana and Wisconsin in Big Ten play. Sure, Minnesota needed overtime and its full complement of players to beat Wisconsin by five points at home, while Florida drubbed the Badgers by 18 in regulation despite missing Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather, but those are just facts.
Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams are both NBA-caliber athletes capable of putting an entire team on a poster, and they sometimes play hard; Austin and Andre Hollins are brothers — you can't pick against brothers* — and both are better than Mbakwe and Williams, and one of them should actually be shooting threes. Also, Tubby Smith has never been accused of being a bad coach.
*They're not actually brothers.
No. 6 UCLA
Rumors about UCLA firing Ben Howland, who has led the Bruins to three Final Fours in eight years in Westwood and piloted an iffy UCLA squad to the Pac-12 regular season title this year, exist, and some of them also include the suggestion that UCLA would make a run at Billy Donovan, so that's clearly an indication that UCLA is a powerhouse to be feared in this NCAA Tournament.
Losing Jordan Adams to a broken foot clearly didn't slow UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament: After he scored 24 points to lead the Bruins past Arizona in a quarterfinal, the Bruins didn't lead for the last 30 minutes to an Oregon team. This is a talented (Adams, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, and Tony Parker all have NBA futures; the Wear twins and Larry Drew II were also blue-chip prospects), unselfish (Muhammad has 26 assists in 31 games this year), and hard-working (you have to work hard to lose to Washington State, USC, and Cal Poly) bunch that can give any team fits like it has given Howland all year.
No. 2 Georgetown
Otto Porter is a player Syracuse Jim Boeheim recently hailed as one of the best in Big East history, which is high praise from a coach whose team was on the way out of the Big East. Georgetown also shot and defended shots very well in the Big East, but still finished second to Louisville in defensive efficiency in the conference. So what if the Hoyas haven't scored 75 points in regulation since Christmas? They still came within three points of South Florida in Tampa, and the Bulls went on to win two whole other Big East games.
Georgetown's patient offense and smothering half-court defense recall Florida, if Florida's problems with scoring in the last eight minutes of games on the road were problems scoring, period.
No. 7 San Diego State
Did you know Kawhi Leonard went to San Diego State? It's true. He did. That's gotta count for a lot more than an 8-8 close to the season since opening 14-2, and the lack of a road win since late January.
No. 10 Oklahoma
The Sooners lost to TCU by three, while Kansas lost to TCU by seven, then lost to Oklahoma by 13 which makes them ... 413 points better than Kansas. I know math. I know the transitive property.
No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast
FGCU beat Miami by 12. Clearly, this is a dangerous team against anyone, and not one that used a horrific shooting day from the Durand Scott-less Hurricanes to score an upset win at home.
No. 1 Kansas
As previously covered, Kansas lost to TCU ... which is just what the Jayhawks needed to get good at basketball again. Their wake-up call after that game was delayed by a nice whack on the snooze button and a loss to Oklahoma, but the Jayhawks did get it together at the end of the season, reeling off huge wins over Texas, TCU, West Virginia, and Texas Tech and only needing overtime to beat Oklahoma State and Iowa State because the refs couldn't figure out a way to make the controversial calls go KU's way earlier.
That 23-point loss to Baylor at the end of the regular season? Meh: Baylor wanted it way more, and it's not alarming at all for the No. 5 defense in the country to have given up 1.27 points per possession to a team coached by Scott Drew. And Kansas thrashed the three teams it saw in the Big 12 Tournament, which was held less than an hour from Lawrence in Kansas City, so what is there to worry about? Jeff Withey is incredible at defense and Ben McLemore is a sure top-five pick with a silky offensive game, and they're going to carry Kansas, which has no history whatsoever of underperforming in March under Bill Self.
No. 5 VCU
Little-known fact: Shaka Smart's one year at Florida came two years after Florida's two national titles, and Billy Donovan actually learned everything he knows about coaching from that one season. That's why Donovan's Gators press infrequently now: Smart installed his infamous HAVOC system of full-court pressure and ran it to perfection with Dan Werner in practice at Florida.
Smart now gets VCU's easiest road yet to the Final Four, which he has been to more recently than Donovan, and has perhaps his most dizzying, daring set of Rams, a group that led the country in turnover and steal percentage and only struggled mightily to score and/or defend in games against teams that controlled the pace and minimized turnovers, like Saint Louis and Richmond. It'll be an immensely confident VCU team that Florida would see, too, considering that the Rams' road to the Elite Eight runs through Kansas and Michigan.
In conclusion, fire Billy Donovan and hire Shaka Smart.
No. 4 Michigan
Few teams do better impressions of non-title-winning Florida teams than 2013 Michigan did: The Wolverines shoot the lights out, especially from three, and rarely take bad shots, but don't get to the basket very often and hate defense. John Beilein's team burst to a 16-0 start to the 2012-13 season, then finished 10-7 down the stretch, and lost to Penn State, but winning 16 games in a row is almost like winning three consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
Also, Al Horford's brother, Jon, is a Wolverine, and so are the sons of Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson. Michigan will make the largely geriatric population of Florida feel old, even if it doesn't beat Florida.
No. 8 North Carolina
North Carolina has two excellent offensive players in Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston, and gets them almost as many shots as offensive black hole James Michael McAdoo takes.
No. 9 Villanova
Remember when Jay Wright's Wildcats beat Florida in 2005? Remember when the Gators paid them back in 2006? Best two out of three always goes to the team that won the first game. I've watched sports movies.
No. 13 South Dakota State
Nate Wolters leads the Jackrabbits, and he's essentially Jimmer Fredette or Marshall Henderson with a tighter-knit supporting cast, as SoDak State uses its starters as just about its entire rotation. That will definitely pay off when they're able to push through being dog-tired in the Elite Eight.
No. 12 Akron
If you can beat the MAC without a starting point guard suspended for allegedly distributing the green as often as he distributed the rock, you can totally beat VCU, Michigan, and Kansas without him.
No. 16 Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky defensive back Jonathan Dowling spent about a month as a Florida football player, but his pictures of a trip to South Florida with Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley almost assuredly touched off what became Rachel George's look at Floyd's adoption for USA TODAY. Obviously, the Hilltoppers will ride that momentum to a defeat of Florida in the Elite Eight.