March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (1) Florida vs. (16) Albany

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Florida Gators 32-2, 18-0

After a perfect run through SEC play in the regular season, the Gators look as formidable heading into the NCAA Tournament as they have since Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer led them to consecutive titles. The Gators have only been topped twice this season despite playing the 29th most difficult schedule in the country. Both of those losses were to teams in the RPI top 30: at Wisconsin back in November and at Connecticut on December 2. Meanwhile, the Gators picked up six wins against teams in the RPI top 50, highlighted by Kansas, Memphis and Kentucky (twice). Like all of Donovan’s Gator teams, this year’s squad is tenacious on the defensive end. They allow just 58 points a night; only four other teams gave up less. They’re quite experienced with only two freshmen (Kasey Hill and Chris Walker) and balanced, but Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC Player of the Year, is the engine that makes this team go. Casey Prather’s 14.6 points per game leads the way, but four other Gators average at least nine. If this team has a weakness it’s at the free throw line, where they only make 67 percent of their attempts. It’s no coincidence that they shot below that in both of their losses this season.

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Albany Great Danes 18-14, 9-7

The Great Danes are representing the America East Conference for the second consecutive season and making their fourth NCAA tournament appearance overall. They closed out the year by winning six of their last seven, including an upset of Vermont, the regular season champs, in the semifinals of the conference tournament. In the championship they topped Stony Brook, who finished in second place in the regular season as well, despite playing the final seven minutes without their second leading scorer Sam Rowley as he fouled out. Rowley is one of four Great Danes to average double figures, with sophomore guard Peter Hooley leading the way with 15.7 a night. Their strength of schedule was ranked 298th; they dropped their only game against a RPI top 50 squad, losing a 58-46 decision to Pittsburgh. The Great Danes only allowed 64 points a game, but they struggle offensively, only scoring 65.9 a night. They’re not a dangerous three-point shooting team, averaging just 4.9 makes from distance a game. The 11 assists a game they average is also among the lowest in the field. Those offensive woes are going to make it extremely difficult for the Great Danes to survive and advance, but it’s a great learning experience. While five seniors are graduating, Hooley and Rowley will be back. The foundation is in place to be a championship contender again next season, especially with the confidence the team has gained from this year’s run.