The similarity the Cavaliers present on paper is so profound at the outset of the teams’ second round clash (approximately 8:40 p.m., TNT or March Madness Live) that it merits not just mentioning but appreciation. Florida is seventh in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rating, 28th in adjusted offensive efficiency, and fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency; Virginia is 10th, 38th, and second, scoring about two and a half fewer points per 100 possessions than the Gators on offense and allowing about two fewer points per 100 possessions on defense.
A difference of half a point over 100 possessions is practically the width of a fly’s wing.
Florida has seen and dispatched Virginia in an NCAA Tournament before, but that was a different Gators team, with a different coach, and a different set of skills. Billy Donovan’s charges dribble-drove all over the “pack line” defense Tony Bennett’s Cavs have deployed to great effect, with Bradley Beal and Casey Prather each slicing and shooting for 14 points against a defense predicated on denying easy buckets at the rim.
This year’s Gators don’t have anyone quite so versatile from midrange — Devin Robinson makes his twos and is coming off a brilliant game, but he can struggle to generate them with a shaky dribble — and this year’s Cavaliers are better defensively and much better offensively than their forbears. Virginia gets much of its offense from do-everything point guard London Perrantes, forceful tweener Marial Shayok, and the shooting that those two open up. Kyle Guy shoots better than 50 percent from three, and has taken one more three than he has twos this year, so he’ll be Florida’s key cover on the perimeter, but Perrantes has launched one fewer three than he has twos, so there will be attempts from deep to deal with.
But there probably won’t be that many, as Virginia is, as usual, last nationally in pace. The Cavaliers are most comfortable playing in the 60s and low 70s, and choking their opponents as a result, but while Florida forces foes to work deep into shot clocks, the Gators love to run on offense, and transition scoring opportunities are crucial to their offense. If Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza, and KeVaughn Allen can help a Florida offense predicated on pressure do the near-impossible and turn Perrantes over — he’s committed more than two turnovers just four times in 2017 — then the Gators could generate the sort of offense that Virginia can’t pack in to defend, and flourish as a result.
If not, this is likely to be a brutal, not beautiful, game, with both teams scratching for points into the night in the Amway Center. And for the loser of that game, it would be a very unhappy exit from the NCAA Tournament, indeed.