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The Alligator Army Weekly Open Thread, Vol. XLIV

The madness of March begins.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness starts this week, and the Florida Gators, slotted as a No. 4 seed, will meet the No. 13 seed East Tennessee State Buccaneers in Orlando, at 3:10 p.m. on Thursday.

Florida might be a popular upset pick in some of this year’s brackets. The Gators have lost three of their last four games (two of those losses being to Vanderbilt), while East Tennessee State has won nine of their last ten. I’ve also seen several projections that have Florida bowing out in the second round of competition.

Four of CBS Sports’ six experts picked the Gators to lose in the first round (one picked them to make the Elite Eight while the other had them dropping in the second round). FiveThirtyEight projects Florida to have an 87 percent chance of advancing against the Buccaneers, but presently gives them a 44 percent chance of making it past their undetermined second opponent. SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell picks the Gators to make it to the second round, but has them losing to UNC Wilmington there.

As of this posting, 83 percent of the Yahoo! brackets that have been completed online so far have Florida advancing past the first round, with 44 percent of them also having the Gators victorious in the second round - very similar to FiveThirtyEight’s numbers. Of course, that is just a small sampling size of the plentiful predictions that are out there for your perusal.

Florida’s opponent in that first round is the aforementioned East Tennessee State Buccaneers. The Southern Conference Champion Bucs lead their league in scoring margin (+10.6 points) and field goal percentage (.491), and are second in scoring (79.9 points per game). ETSU has played two SEC opponents this season, Mississippi State and Tennessee; the Buccaneers defeated the Bulldogs and lost by four to the Volunteers.

The Bucs are one of the best shooting teams in the nation, ranking 13th in field goal percentage and third in three point percentage (27.9 pg). ETSU also fouls a lot and plays an aggressive style of defense.

Florida has faced ETSU before, and is 4-0 all time against the Buccaneers, but these two haven’t played since 1980 so I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in that record. Like the Gators, ETSU also has a second year coach, Steve Forbes, who was an assistant coach at Tennessee during Bruce Pearl’s time with the Vols. He later coached at a junior college and then was an assistant coach at Wichita State.

The Gators have played ten teams in this year’s NCAA tournament field, and are 7-8 against those opponents. Of course, three of those eight losses were against Vanderbilt.

How far do you think the Gators will go this year? Anyone making the trip to Orlando?What do you think of Florida’s match-up with East Tennessee State? I’ve gotten the taste of the Vanderbilt loss out of my mouth, and it’s nice to see the Gators back in the tournament.

As always, this Weekly Open Thread is for any and all comments on any and all topics, with the rules of commenting decorum still in full effect.