Posted: 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, March 19, 2013
By Benjamin Miraski
One of the biggest criticisms of Florida this season has been their ability to deal with pressure in late game situations. They will face a much tougher challenge in their second round game that just a challenge over the final five minutes.
With Southland champion Northwestern State on the opposite bench, they will face the pressure from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
It would be easy to say that Florida has face this kind of pressure this season, but really no one has seen anything like this unless they have faced the Demons. The little team that could from Natchitoches has burned up the floor like no other team in the country this season. The pressure got to teams that looked destined to make their own opening round upsets in the NCAA Tournament, like Stephen F. Austin.
So while Florida has played teams at faster tempos, they are not prepared for anything like this, not even with playing the SEC.
And let's not forget that this Demon team has some talent, even if it doesn't play 30-plus minutes. No, they will make brief appearances like a hockey line, as Mike McConathy conducts from the bench.
DeQuan Hicks will be the challenge on the inside, and despite playing just 562 minutes this season, he was worth more than five wins according to our HW30 statistic. James Hulbin and Jalan West: they also were worth more than four wins per game.
But the thing is that the Gators value goes much deeper than that of Northwestern State. The top seven players on the Gators contributed a value greater than a win over the course of the season. The Demons had just four, and we have already named three of them (the fourth is starting combo guard Shamir Davis, making two of the top four some of the top assist men for the Southland champs).
And that is where this game is going to be won. Northwestern State might be able to force several of the Gator players -- like Boynton -- into making mistakes, or even into foul trouble -- like Erik Murphy -- but there will be another player off the bench to take their place. They won't be able to recreate what they did against the Lumberjacks in the Southland final, when they forced starting point guard Hal Bateman into foul trouble, and then concentrated on pulling a Hack-a-Shaq against Taylor Smith (46 percent free-throw shooter).
Northwestern State will bring a lot of players off the bench but it won't have the same effect, and if any of the top three getting into real trouble, there is a big gap down to the next tier.
Think about it: this is a prime reason why Florida was one of the top teams in the computer rankings this season. They have the ability to beat you in so many ways. And they have one of the best defenses in the country, something that Northwestern State hasn't seen this year.
There is potential for an upset, but it would take almost a perfect game from the Demons, and really would require them to change their style of play and take down the tempo to force Florida into a possession by possession game instead of the free-wheeling style that the Demons are used to.
That is why you have to lean toward the Gators escaping the first round with a win. Northwestern State just can't be that perfect.
The MRI computer rankings estimate that the Florida Gators have a 94.4 percent chance of winning this second round game.