For most schools, getting to the Elite Eight would be a pretty cool thing. But most schools are not the University of Florida. The Florida Gators have been to the Final Four four times since 1994, three national title games in that span and won two national championships. So getting to the Elite Eight is nice, but not three times in a row without a Final Four trip to show for it. The Gators getting to the Elite Eight three straight times makes them only the third SEC team to accomplish the feat. The first two were both Kentucky Wildcats teams.
The bad news is the Gators are the first team to get to the Elite Eight three straight years and lose all three since the 1940s. Back then there were probably not much more than eight teams in the NCAA Tournament. So Gators fans, players and coaches have to be wondering what they need to do to get past this round, the most painful round to exit the tournament.
It is hard to say exactly what the problem is since the three teams that failed were all a bit different. The 2011 team had a Final Four in their back pocket with less than 10:00 to play and blew it against the Butler Bulldogs. They just didn’t play smart basketball down the stretch. They fell in love with the three point shot, trying for the knockout blow when two point trips would have worked just fine. That Gator team was big up front and Vernon Macklin could have scored on them any time he wanted. So could Alex Tyus. Instead they threw up bricks from downtown and let Butler back in the game.
The story in 2012 against the Louisville Cardinals was very similar. Florida was red hot from downtown in the first half, but in the second half could not buy a made jumper. They let a similar sized lead slip away in just about the same amount of time. To be fair though, that team was much smaller up front after Macklin and Tyus graduated. They had one great player, Brad Beal, who went #3 in the NBA Draft after that run.
The 2013 teams was small up front as well, but very quick. They played very good team defense and really got after it on the defensive end. They did not have a go-to scorer though. But this team was one of the weirdest teams ever. They finished the year 29-8. All 29 of their wins were by 10 or more points. Until their 20 point loss to the Michigan Wolverines in the Elite Eight, their worst loss was by 11 points. They went 0-6 in single digit games.
So what do they need to improve upon to hopefully break through and get to the Final Four? They need to get bigger up front. Demontre Harris takes care of that. He was an All-SEC freshman team shot blocker at South Carolina. They need a go-to scorer that can stop a run by the other team. Dorian Finney-Smith could be that guy. He was not a scorer at Virginia Tech, but he was in high school. He was ranked #31 in Rivals Top 150 in 2011.
Florida also landed two of the top 10 ranked high school players in the Rivals Top 150 in Chris Walker and Kasey Hill. So with hose four players and if Patric Young, Will Yeguette and Casey Prather come back. the Gators could be Final Four material. But to really get there they need to get a little production out of this year’s freshman class of Braxton Oguebeze, Dillon Graham and Devon Walker. This year, the only freshman to produce at all was Michael Frazier. They will need one or two of those guys to improve greatly.
And perhaps most important, stay away from injuries. The Gators were none too deep in their rotation this season, and it was shortened many times because somebody would be hurt.
So there it is. Stay healthy, get more production from the bench, and hope the new guys live up to their billing. Easy.