The Florida Gators entered Thursday’s game against Albany on a 26-game winning streak that earned them the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they got a challenge from the South Region’s No. 16 seed before escaping with a 67-55 victory. They will now take on No. 9 seed Pittsburgh in the Round of 32 on Saturday, after the Panthers cruised to a 77-48 win over Colorado earlier on Thursday.
The Gators had five players score in double figures on Thursday, led by 16 points from SEC Sixth Man of the Year Dorian Finney-Smith and leading scorer Casey Prather. Center Patric Young had 10 points and a team-leading 10 rebounds in the game, and guards Scottie Wilbekin (four assists, three rebounds) and Kasey Hill also added 10 points for Florida.
Talib Zanna had a team-high 18 points (16 in the first half), along with five rebounds and two blocks, against Colorado and he is now averaging 16.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game over the last eight games with three double-doubles in that time. Forward Lamar Patterson is Pittsburgh’s leading scorer (17.6 points per game during the regular season), and he did not have a big game against the Buffaloes (10 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals), but for the Panthers to have any chance to win on Saturday he will have to be a big factor.
Michael Frazier II was clearly the focus of Albany’s defensive game plan on Thursday, and he had just three points (1-for-5 from the floor; 1-for-4 on three-pointers) with five rebounds and two assists in the game. The sophomore guard had gone 35-for-63 (55.6 percent) from beyond the arc over the previous eight games, including 10-for-15 from three-point range in three conference tournament games, highlighted by a 37-point game against South Carolina on March 4.
Both teams were in the top-20 in the country in points allowed coming into the Big Dance, and nothing that occurred Thursday changed that. Pittsburgh has allowed 80 points in regulation just once all season despite playing in the difficult ACC, so if the Gators can find a way to get Frazier II clean looks from the perimeter against a formidable Panthers’ defense they may be able to stave off an upset bid.
Prediction: Florida 67, Pittsburgh 62