Dayton has had a magical run in getting to the Elite 8, but has finally run into a team that looks unbeatable in the guise of the Florida Gators. We sat and looked at this team and had very little clue how the Flyers might take out a team this good.
Good thing there is an expert here at SBNation that can help us out. Andy Hutchins at Alligator Army was nice enough to answer a few questions for us in the wee hours of the morning. Here is the inside scoop on Florida from the man who knows them best:
MMM: So we have given Florida the eye test and we ran some numbers on the Gators, and we are having a really hard time finding a weakness on this team. I think all of your opponents are feeling the same way since you haven't lost since Dec. 2. What do you feel is the biggest weakness for this team that maybe Dayton can find a way to exploit?
AH: It's hard, man. It's really, really hard.
The two teams that have beaten Florida this year have done so by getting good threes and making them (Wisconsin) and having Shabazz Napier (UBazz), and those games featured no Scottie Wilbekin or Dorian Finney-Smith and no Kasey Hill, respectively. Perimeter defense is occasionally an issue for the Gators. I'm just not sure that any team can exploit that weakness well enough to win against Florida's full complement of players.
Failing that, Dayton could foul a lot. Florida's not great at the free throw line.
MMM: Dayton won its last game based on contributions from its bench and especially Kendall Pollard, who would not have been anyone's pick to come up big in the game against Stanford. If you had to pick an X-factor on Florida, who is the guy that would fit the bill?
AH: It could be literally any one of Florida's top eight contributors, but the X-factor of all X-factors is Chris Walker, a future NBA terror who has athleticism and length and an incredible knack for making difficult shots in the lane. Dayton's seen some really good players in this NCAA Tournament, but no one has a player quite like Walker, who has had a couple of his best games in an academics-abbreviated freshman campaign in the NCAA Tournament.
Failing that, backup point guard Kasey Hill actually has more talent than Wilbekin, and is just off an insane 6-10-6 line that placed him in the company of Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd. He possesses blazing speed that troubles defenders, even the ones who sag off him thanks to his poor jump shooting.
MMM: Stanford went to the zone immediately against Dayton and it backfired when the Flyers got super hot from 3-point range. Is this something that Florida is likely to do too, given that they normally play more man and have the personnel to keep up on defense?
AH: I imagine Florida's probably going to start in man, switch to zone if necessary (foul trouble would be a good reason for this) and switch right out of it if Dayton gets hot from three. The Gators strive not to do anything dumb on defense, and zoning a team with as many shooters as the Flyers have strikes me as very dumb.
MMM: About the only place where we see Dayton match up well with the Gators is on the glass. Could we see rebounding be the place where this game turns and the Flyers grab an unexpected edge? Who will be the biggest ball hawk on the glass in this one?
AH: That's a place I could see Florida struggling, yes.
But the Gators are just about as good as Dayton at limiting offensive rebounds, and slightly better at getting them, and they dominated a slightly more rugged Pitt team on the offensive glass. And Florida's playing in its fourth consecutive Elite Eight, with its sights set on finally breaking through to the Final Four. If the Gators do falter again, it would be gob-stopping for that to happen because of a lack of effort, and the glass is probably the place effort most obviously translates.
MMM: We'll leave you with an easy one. How do you predict this goes down in the end?
AH: I think Dayton hangs around early, but just can't spar with the bigger, stronger, and better Gators for 40 minutes. Florida will pull away and turn this game into something resembling a rout. Double digits would not surprise me, but I'll pick 72-63 as my score.
Thanks again to Andy Hutchins for helping us to get to know Florida. You can get all his smarts by following him on Twitter at @AndyHutchins. And be sure to read my answers to his questions about the Flyers over at Alligator Army.