The Florida Gators played their way into the NCAA Tournament this past weekend. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports had them on the outside looking in as recently as Thursday, but they beat Arkansas and SEC regular-season champion LSU to reach the conference tournament semifinals.
Head coach Mike White and his No. 10 seed Gators face Nevada in the West regional. Nevada enters March Madness after a 29-4 record out of the Mountain West conference.
The Wolf Pack are led by Eric Musselman, who fostered a Sweet 16 appearance last March only a few years removed from a 9-22 campaign.
Let’s review both squads’ seasons before diving into predictions and picks for this 2019 NCAA Tournament first-round matchup.
Florida NCAA Tournament Resume
Out of conference, the Gators were a mess, albeit a competitive one. They scuffled to an 8-5 mark, but with 4 of the 5 coming down to single-digits. The most impressive showing was probably a loss, as Florida almost topped a No. 2 seed Michigan State at home. The next closest is a 24-point rout against a fellow bubble team in Butler (who actually topped the Gators in November).
Conference play really only provided one highlight until tournament time. Florida beat LSU in Baton Rouge 82-77 in overtime in the midst of a 5-game winning streak. The Gators missed golden chances to move off the bubble in an overtime loss to the Tigers in the rematch, as well as a 9-point loss at Kentucky in the conference finale.
The rest of the games against the top-4 of the SEC (Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn) ended with double-digit losses. While the Gators are finished with a .500 record in the SEC, the conference is only the fourth-best nationally according to Ken Pomeroy.
Nashville provided the final boost necessary, as Andrew Nembhard notched 20 points to lead Florida to a 76-73 upset over LSU in the quarterfinals.
Nevada NCAA Tournament Resume
Musselman scheduled teams that expected to be strong, but most of them were mediocre or worse in the non-conference. The Wolfpack topped a First Four squad in Arizona State, as well as 16-17 Southern Cal and 17-14 Utah.
In Mountain West play, the Wolf Pack split the season series with fellow conference champ Utah State. They also lost 2 of 3 games against San Diego State, including an early exit from the conference tournament.
The Mountain West is only considered the the No. 10 conference in college basketball according to Pomeroy.
Florida vs. Nevada Predictions and Picks
The Gators rarely lose early in the NCAA Tournament, advancing past the Round of 64 in every appearance since 2011. That includes a 77-62 win last year over St. Bonaventure, as well as a run to the Elite 8 in White’s debut 2017 season.
The last time Florida didn’t win at least 1 game in March Madness was an overtime loss to BYU in 2010.
The Gators will rely on a defense that ranks No. 14 in efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. Up-tempo teams such as LSU, Tennessee and Auburn have been able to take advantage in transition, leading to several 70-point plus outings.
Senior guard KeVaughn Allen leads the offense with 12 points per game, while both center Kevarrius Hayes and Keyontae Johnson put up 8-point and 6-board stat lines.
Meanwhile, Nevada features a one-two punch of 6-foot-7 types in Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline. The former scores over 19 points a game, while the latter cans over 38 percent of his triples en route to over 17 points a contest.
Over 4 players shoot over 34 percent from three, including a scorching 45 percent from Jazz Johnson. The Gators will have to run Nevada off the 3-point line.
Whoever wins will have to face the winner of Michigan-Montana in the Round of 32. The Wolverines won the West Regional last year in Los Angeles and lost to Villanova in the NCAA final.
Florida is rounding into a formidable out late in the season, while Nevada just got beat up by a similarly-formed team in the Aztecs. Expect the Gators to advance, and then challenge Michigan for the Sweet 16 in a rock fight.
OddsShark gives Florida +3300 odds to win it all, and Nevada +2500.