The Florida Gators are looking to get back to the promised land. The team is looking to return to the Final Four, with their last appearance coming in 2014 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The team is starting their run to Phoenix on Thursday in a first-round matchup against East Tennessee State. For the Gators, it’s all about redemption.
What This Year Means
After ending the season on a sour note with a loss to Vanderbilt, the team is looking to use this year’s March Madness as a platform for redemption. Coming off a 25-9 season (14-4 conference record), they look at an opportunity to shake off the doubt that is following them into the tournament following an SEC tournament loss. They also get to do that in their home state.
Keys to Success
The school would reach the NCAA Final Four in 2014 after a 34-2 record with a perfect 18-0 conference record. One player who has seen the highs and lows of the team is senior G Kasey Hill. As the only member of the 2013-14 team still on the roster, he could be the key factor to a serious push in the tournament.
Not only are the Gators looking to that veteran experience to make a push, but they’re also looking at key players on the team to continue performing the way they have all season. Hill brings not only experience to the team, but a 28.3 points per game average on the season, the highest of the team. Other key players that will be relied on once again in this pivotal round one include F Devin Robinson, who leads the team in rebounds on the season with a total of 196 and G Canyon Barry, who holds a .878 free throw average on the season, going 101 for 115 in shots made.
Odds Swing Against Florida
One notable player who will be missing the tournament is 6’ 11” C John Egbunu. Egbunu is out with a torn ACL, which he would suffer in the 114-96 road victory against Auburn on Feb. 14. This will sway the odds against the Gators, as Egbunu is a (very) big body that pulls in rebounds at an uncanny rate, notching 10 or more boards in six games during the regular season. The absence of Egbunu will certainly play a factor in the Gators’ performance and will call upon the key players to step up that much more in the tournament.
Round One’s Significance
The stars are aligning for Florida to make noise in the tournament. Gator basketball head coach Mike White leads the team just two hours south of Gainesville to the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. After missing the last two NCAA tournaments, 2017 means more than a trip to Phoenix.
This year is about silencing critics, removing doubt and showing the NCAA that they can progress very far in the tournament. For Florida, who has the Vegas odds set to 9/1 to win the whole shebang, it’s simply about redemption for the last two years. Its about forgetting the absence from the tournament the last two years. They look to start the redemption tour in Orlando on Thursday against East Tennessee.
How to Watch
Tip off’s at 3:10 p.m., live from Orlando on truTV. The winner of this game moves to the second round to face the winner of the Virginia/UNCW game on Mar. 18.