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Virginia Cavaliers vs. Florida Gators: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview and Prediction


East Region No. 5 seed Virginia – and its Second Round opponent, fourth-seeded Florida – drew a challenging First Round slate. The Cavaliers fell behind 15 points to UNC Wilmington Thursday, before storming back behind 47 combined points from London Perrantes and Marial Shayok.

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Shayok's banked-in jumper in the waning seconds sealed the Cavaliers' win, setting up an intriguing Round of 32 showdown with Florida. The Gators used 47 second-half points to pull away from East Tennessee State. Their 80 points were the Gators' most since Feb. 21.

While both Virginia and Florida showed impressive bursts of offense in their First Round victories, these are two teams known for their defensive prowess. The Cavaliers came into the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 1 nationally in defensive efficiency, though dipped to No. 2 after facing UNC Wilmington's potent offense. Florida ranks No. 4 in defensive efficiency.

Scoring opportunities should be scarce on both ends of the floor in this ACC vs. SEC showdown.

East Region: No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers (23-10) vs. No. 4 Florida Gators (25-8)

Time: 8:40 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Where: Amway Center (Orlando)


Line: Florida -2

Keys for Virginia

Florida's outstanding defense limits the 3-pointer particularly well, and the Gators' defense of the key is a key contributing factor. Even with 7-footer John Egbunu injured for the season, Florida can outmuscle opponents inside the paint, which in turn, prevents teams from effectively playing inside-out to free up shooters.

Virginia's not a team that necessarily needs the 3-pointer to win. Just 31.4 percent of its offense comes from behind the arc, No. 149 in the nation. When the Cavaliers do shoot from deep, however, they're among the 20 best in college basketball. And Virginia hits the 3-pointer with such efficiency because of its guards' ability to get into the lane.

Shayok is an elite-level shot creator whose attacking of the basket helped will Virginia to a First Round win. He needs to be able to similarly get around Florida's perimeter defenders and score in traffic to open up Virginia's offense, which has a tendency to go stagnant at critical junctures.

Keys for Florida

Florida isn't overwhelmingly dominant on the glass, holding just a plus-2.1 per game rebounding edge over the course of the season. When the Gators beat top-tier opponents, however, they own the boards.

They out-rebounded Kentucky by 25 in a blowout last month; they bested Arkansas by seven late in the regular season. Owning the glass will be pivotal against Virginia – in particular, getting offensive rebounds could make the difference in the Gators' favor.

Florida ranks No. 73 in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, but Virginia is 17th in offensive rebounds allowed. It's a critical component to the Cavaliers' success: force bad shots, and don't allow second looks. Devin Robinson's efforts against a comparatively smaller Virgina front-court are key, and reserve big man Kevarrius Hayes – who snatched four offensive boards against ETSU – could be an x-factor.

Final Analysis

Florida and Virginia are remarkably similar – so much so, that just one spot separates them in the national rankings. This should be a hotly contested matchup, since both squads are so defensively disciplined.

The difference-maker in this one should be Shayok. He took his game to another level in the First Round, and looks ready to go on a memorable March run. He and Perrantes feed off one another. If backup Kyle Guy can add a spark off the bench, the Cavaliers will be tough to beat.

Prediction: Virginia 63, Florida 60 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.