Florida's defense was good enough against Virginia and Norfolk State, but it could send the Gators home against Marquette.
7 Florida vs. 3 Marquette, 10:17 pm ET, TBS
Florida has had the cushiest ride so far in the tournament. Virginia turned out to be completely overmatched, and the clock hit midnight for Norfolk State about five minutes into its game against UF. Florida is one of only two teams to have faced a pair of double-digit seeds, along with Midwest 2-seed Kansas who also has faced a 15 and a 10, but no one has had an easier ride. After all, Florida set a school record by winning its first two tournament games by a combined 60 points.
Marquette ratchets up the degree of difficulty considerably. The Golden Eagles finished second in the rugged Big East, only have one loss to a team that didn't make the tournament, and only have one other loss to a team that didn't win at least one tournament game.
Marquette can score—it has put up 76 points per game and dropped 88 points on BYU—but its bigger strength is its defense. Just look at its two tournament wins so far. The Eagles held high-scoring BYU to 10 points below its season average at 68, and it held Murray State to a remarkable 21 points below its season average at 53. They forced 17 and 16 turnovers, respectively, in those two games.
Senior G Darius Johnson-Odom is the team's leading scorer, but the player who could cause the most trouble is senior F Jae Crowder. Marquette starts three guards and two forwards, just as Florida does, but Crowder is a dynamic 6'6" small forward. Florida's forwards Patric Young and Erik Murphy are power forwards, and Young often plays the role of a center. Crowder operates in the hole in the Florida roster created by WIll Yeguete's injury, and while Casey Prather had a nice couple of tournament games, he can't yet be trusted to match up with one of Marquette's best two players.
By the same token, Marquette will have trouble dealing with both Young and Murphy on the floor at the same time. Davante Gardner is a nice young power forward off of the bench, but C Chris Otule would have been a big help if he hadn't been lost for the season months ago. How the Gators deal with Crowder on one end and the Eagles deal with Murphy and Young on the other will go a long way to determining the outcome of this game.
Marquette, for whatever it's worth, is 1-2 against the SEC this year with a big win over Ole Miss, a loss at LSU, and a bad home loss to Vanderbilt. Florida has looked great since the start of the SEC Tournament, with it knocking off Alabama, nearly beating Kentucky, and scoring two blowout wins in the tournament. The real danger for the Gators is coming out expecting to win based off of those two big wins, as is letting Johnson-Odom run wild. Billy Donovan's teams have historically been bounced from the tournament by great guards having great games.
UF has had a good run so far, but tonight is likely when its inconsistent defense finally ends its season against a really good Marquette team.
The pick: Marquette 74, Florida 67