Who would have thought the Gators could beat Northwestern State by 32 and not be the most famous Florida-based team of the NCAA tournament?
Of course, the new Cinderella darling is Florida Gulf Coach University, the fast-paced No. 15 seed that upset Georgetown in its first tournament appearance.
Things were a lot more predictable in Austin, where Billy Donovan’s Florida squad won going away 79-47 — but in pedestrian fashion.
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In doing so, the Gators shook off the cobwebs and erased the memory of their SEC tournament loss to Ole Miss. But this victory also demonstrated some good and bad traits that Donovan needs to face head-on, if the Gators hope to meet expectations and play in Atlanta in a couple of weeks (the Final Four).
Here are three takeaways from Friday’s game:
1. Two talented big men are always better than one
When Patric Young and Erik Murphy are on the floor together, the Gators are as tough inside as any team in the tournament. Separately, they’re good, pulling rebounds, clogging the middle, and contributing offensively. When working together, they own the paint.
The pair combined for 34 points and 16 rebounds. In the first half, the Gators had an 11-rebound advantage over the Demons, largely because of Donovan’s decision to go big.
2. True leaders want that final shot
Florida still doesn’t have a go-to shooter. Even in a game it dominated, outside shooting looked tentative and uninspiring.
Kenny Boynton scored 11 after spending most of the first half on the bench with a couple of fouls, and Scottie Wilbekin also scored 11. Mike Rosario chipped in eight points.
None of the above names seemingly want the ball in crucial situations — like Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss) or Rex Smith (Louisville). As such, no Gator expects to hit three straight 3-pointers down the stretch to lead their team back from adversity; and none are begging to take the final shot that often separates winning from losing.
Florida has plenty of offensive weapons, but the team isn’t overrun with offensive leaders. That could be the Gators’ downfall down the road.
3. You can’t beat a more talented team by playing their game
Northwestern State played the same half-court, inside-out game that Florida has endorsed all season. That works fine if you’re more talented than a particular opponent. But if you’re out-skilled, you need to play a different game, at a different tempo.
Florida Gulf Coast did just that, lighting up Georgetown with a run-and-gun game that caught the Hoyas flat-footed. By the time Georgetown adjusted, FGCU had a double-digit lead and insurmountable momentum.
The Gators, in turn, won because they had more talent and didn’t have to adjust to a style different from their own. That will not be the case as the tournament progresses.