Billy Donovan’s senior class enters the 2013 NCAA Tournament aiming to culminate their climb back to the top after missing The Big Dance in 2010, before hitting the Elite 8 the past two years. The No. 3 seed Florida Gators (26-7, 14-4 SEC) begin their hopeful return to championship glory against No. 14 seed Northwestern State Demons (23-8, 15-3 Southland) Friday night at 7:27 p.m. ET in Austin.
What to watch for:
Senior leaders Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy will have NW State chasing them all over the court. If Boynton’s shot is dropping this could be over early. However, there are times in close games where the offense relies too much on Boynton-on-five, with ill-advised shots jacked up from the outside. But when he’s on, Florida can beat anyone. Patric Young (6-9) and Murphy (6-10) both provide extremely difficult matchups, able to stay mobile and also present problems down low. Along with forward Will Yeguete (6-9) their physicality and size favors the Gators greatly in the rebound battle.
The Southland Conference tournament champions regularly rotate 10 players and love to run all day. It’s hard to imagine them wearing out the Gators, but if Jalan West and Shamir Davis can get enough easy buckets via press and transition, this game could stay close into the second half.
Florida ranks No. 1 in both Ken Pomeroy rankings and Jeff Sagarin “Predictor” metrics. Nate Silver gives them the highest probability of coming out of the South Region despite being the third-seeded team. I am overwhelmed by stat-crunchers. Don’t get cute; Florida is the easy call here.