AP Photo

Sweet 16 Preview: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA

1 Comment
Getty Images

On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA:

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

WHEN: Thursday, 9:45 p.m.

WHERE: FedEx Forum, Memphis (South Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: Why doesn’t Billy Donovan’s come up more when discussing the best coach in college basketball? A win on Thursday will send him to his fourth consecutive Elite 8, the first three of which came with an offense built around Kenny Boynton. He’s won two National Titles and could end up making his fourth Final Four this season. He lands elite talent and can also develop players into quality pieces in for his system. At the same time, Steve Alford will be trying to make his first career Elite 8. His predecessor made three straight Final Fours and was fired after winning the Pac-12 title.

KEY STATS: There’s an argument to be made here that UCLA has the best transition attack in the country. An impressive 21.2% of their possessions are used in transition, a number that ranks them 13th nationally. They average 1.170 points-per-possession in transition as well, which gives them the most efficiency fast break among the 30 teams that have the highest percentage of transition possessions. Florida, however, ranks in the 95th percentile nationally in transition defense and, per KenPom, force teams into the second-longest average possession.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWSDayton-Stanford | Wisconsin-Baylor | Arizona-San Diego State

Iowa State-UConn | Michigan-Tennessee | Virginia-Michigan State | Louisville-Kentucky

KEY PLAYERS: The single-most important player on the floor in this game — and arguably the single-most important player left in the NCAA tournament — is Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin. He’s Florida’s closer, the guy that makes the big shots in the big moments as the Gators are trying to close out a game. I’m not sure there is a better ‘big shot maker’ in the country than Wilbekin, and I’m not sure that UCLA has an ideal matchup for him.

POINT SPREAD: Florida (-4.5)


1. Who guards Kyle Anderson?: Slo-mo is the most unique player in all of college basketball. He’s slow, he’s not all that explosive and he’s 6-foot-9, but he’s UCLA’s point guard, their facilitator offensively, while averaging 14.7 points, 8.7 boards and 6.5 assists. He’s so slow that he actually gets defenders off-balance, which, when combined with his ability to handle the ball, makes him a nightmare matchup for big men. Who does Florida use to guard him?

2. UCLA’s zone: Most of the elite teams in the country can be zoned pretty effectively this season, and Florida is one of those teams. The Gators don’t have a ton of perimeter shooters, and as a team they’re shooting just 25% from beyond the arc during the NCAA tournament. The Bruins play zone 36% of the time, according to Synergy.

3. Florida changing defenses: What makes the Gators so difficult to prepare for is the fact that they can give so many different looks defensively. They can play man-to-man, straight up or switching all exchanges 1-through-4. They can switch pick-and-rolls. They play an extended 1-3-1 zone that is a nightmare given their length and athleticism. They press on 16% of their defensive possessions. It is not easy to prepare for.


VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Leave a comment

Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Leave a comment

After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.