Florida vs. Pitt Preview and Open Thread

The Gators are the first up of the SEC's Round of 32 participants.

9 Pittsburgh vs. 1 Florida, 12:15 pm ET, CBS

Round-by-round bracket contests don't seem to be all that popular, but if they were, I would expect this game to be something of a trendy upset pick. Florida struggled for a while in getting past Albany on Thursday, while Pitt blew the doors off of Colorado. As everyone who will preview this game will say, if these teams both play like they did two days ago, the Panthers are the ones who will be moving on.

Florida certainly knows it probably played about a D game against the Great Danes. A report from the Gators' locker room afterwards described the scene as being similar to that of a team that had lost. A 12-point win over Albany isn't going to impress anyone. For what it's worth though—which is probably nothing—Pitt only beat Albany by 12 back on New Year's Eve when those two played.

If the Gators played a D game on Thursday, they'll need at least a B+ game to make the Sweet 16. Pitt is the No. 14 team in the KenPom ratings, the worst seeded team in his top 25 outside of Tennessee. Even if Florida turns it around and plays a lot better, it won't win this game by 20 without some help from the Panthers. They might have failed to defeat the top two ACC teams of Virginia and Syracuse, but the widest margin of loss in their four games against those teams was five.

The matchup to watch is Patric Young against Pitt's Talib Zanna. Zanna is his team's leading scorer, while Young is the SEC defensive player of the year. Zanna is a very active big man; he's not just a schlub who hangs out by the rim.  Young must avoid the foul trouble that occasionally plagues him and above all keep Zanna off of the offensive glass. If Young can do that while also keeping Zanna off balance with his post offense, he'll neutralize the Panthers' best player.

Both of these teams like to take their time, so it's conceivable that neither will even hit 60 points. Both of Pitt's games against Syracuse had neither team hit 60, and three of the four team scores in its games with Virginia failed to hit 50. Pitt even had a 44-43 non-conference loss to Cincinnati. You'll probably hear the announcers talk about how Florida needs to push the tempo and get into transition, and while that might help, it's not required to beat Pitt.

Pitt-Colorado was another Tennessee-UMass situation where the committee ignored the advanced stats and produced a big mismatch (KenPom No. 14 vs. No. 78). Games on the 8/9 line are supposed to be between relative equals, but that one was closer to being a 3 vs. 14 game (e.g. No. 20 Iowa State vs. No. 80 NC Central). Yes, Pitt did destroy Colorado in impressive fashion, but it should have won that game with relative ease anyway.

I expect this game to have a feel and outcome pretty similar to UF's SEC Tournament games against Tennessee and Kentucky. Ultimately, Florida will likely prove to be too much and hold on at the end. Billy Donovan is one of the better tournament coaches, while Jamie Dixon is one of the shakier ones.

Florida should win, but it's not a foregone conclusion.

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