Stumbling Gators will face a confident Pitt team on Saturday
The early session in Orlando displayed two scores not uncommon for a No. 1 seed against a No. 16 and a No. 8 against a No. 9.
Pittsburgh, though, looked like the top seed in the region while No. 1 Florida looked more like a team that slogged through a win against similarly matched team.
While there may be little reason to recalibrate expectations of Florida’s ability to advance deep in the NCAA Tournament, the results in Orlando suddenly make Saturday’s round of 32 game that much more interesting.
"Our margin for error as a team is not great."
-Florida coach Billy Donovan
“I've always said this: Our margin for error as a team is not great,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “So when you see what you see today, we were able to overcome it and win the game, but we were not the same defensive team I think that we've been in the past.”
Florida’s halfcourt defense was an issue, especially early. Albany made 12 of its first 20 shots, but the Great Danes finished 20 of 51 from the field.
Also troubling for Florida’s championship prospects was the Gators’ struggles from 3-point range. Michael Frazier II, Scott Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith were a combined 3 of 11 from 3-point range against an opponent ranked 208th defending the 3-point line.
Waiting for Florida on Saturday is a Pittsburgh team that just played its best game of the year. The Panthers beat Colorado 77-48 in a game that rarely seemed even that close.
The bottom fell out for a Colorado team that’s been playing for more than a month without its best player in Spencer Dinwiddie, but Pitt played a major role in embarrassing the ninth-seeded Buffaloes.
In Talib Zanna, Pitt has a big body on the glass who can go head-to-head with Florida’s Patric Young.
By the start of March, Pittsburgh had the look of a bubble team with few precious wins. Since the regular season finale against Clemson, the Panthers defeated North Carolina in the ACC Tournament and topped 80 points three times in the last five games.
That kind of momentum may spell trouble for a Florida team whose defensive performance Thursday baffled its head coach.
“Last week was kind of the eyeâopener for us,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “We didn't win the tournament, but we played well. We felt we should have won it, and we came out of there feeling that we should have won the tournament, so I think our confidence has built up.”