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Elite Eight Preview and Picks: Florida Gators vs. Dayton Flyers

Patric Young

Patric Young

A team can’t reach six regional finals in nine seasons, including four in a row, without being either the dream crusher or dream maker.

Consider the teams the Gators have faced in the NCAA Tournament since the year of Florida’s first title in 2006: Florida defeated George Mason in the Final Four in 2006 and Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16 in 2013. But the Gators also were one of the victims of Butler on the Bulldogs’ second run to the national title game in 2011.

Now, here comes No. 11 seed Dayton in the Elite Eight. Will the Flyers meet the same fate as George Mason or Dunk City? Or will they following the same path as Butler?

Florida, though, has its own history to make. The Gators have reached four consecutive Elite Eights, coming up short of the Final Four in each of the last three seasons.

“At the beginning of the year, it's our goal to make it here, and the fact that we have this opportunity, we're not going to let the moment get bigger than us, staying locked in and focused on what we need to do,” said Florida center Patric Young, who has been a member of all four Elite Eight teams. “We're just very blessed and fortunate to be a team that can put themselves in this opportunity to play for a Final Four again.”

Florida vs. Dayton
Time: 6 p.m., Eastern
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
Region: Memphis (South)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox:
Florida 67-52
Braden Gall: Florida 73-56
Mitch Light: Florida 73-62
Nathan Rush: Florida 80-70

How Florida got here:

The Gators held UCLA to 0.943 points per possession, the Bruins’ second lowest average since Feb. 2. Florida’s defensive prowess has been well-established but deserves to be reinforced: No team has averaged better than a point per possession against the Gators since Feb. 22 against Ole Miss.

How Dayton got here:

Dayton defeated Ohio State and Syracuse in the first weekend with stout defense, but the Flyers proved they could score enough to advance in the field with an 82-72 win over Stanford, a team with a significant size advantage.

Key for Florida to get to the Final Four: Crack Dayton’s perimeter defense

The Flyers held Stanford’s Chasson Randle to 2 of 10 from the field, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis to 0 of 5 from 3-point range and Ohio State to 3 of 12 from beyond the arc. The Flyers will try to do the same to Florida’s Michael Frazier II, who hit five 3-pointers against UCLA.

Key for Dayton to get to the Final Four: Match Florida’s versatility and balance

One of Florida’s best strengths is the Gators' balance and depth. Dayton may be one of the few teams that can match Florida’s numbers. A dozen players attempted a shot in the Sweet 16 win over Stanford, and nine Flyers are averaging more than 11 minutes per game in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, no one averages more than 30 minutes. Dayton will try to stay fresh against a more talented team.

Players to watch: Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Young, Florida

Perhaps the most interesting storyline in Florida’s run to another Elite Eight has been the play of the Gators’ point guards. Wilbekin has been the go-to scorer, putting up 21 points against Pittsburgh and picking up the key buckets to pull away from UCLA. The freshman Young also has become more involved with 10 assists against the Bruins. Together, they have 21 assists to five turnovers in the NCAA Tournament.