Florida put an end to its three-game losing streak before this weekend’s MetroPCS Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise. The Gators get a shot at adding another non-conference win against a power-five conference opponents to its resume before SEC play starts up. Meanwhile, Clemson gets its first shot at a ranked opponent before that becomes the norm in the ACC.
On either end of Florida’s three-game losing streak is a win against a Sweet Sixteen-caliber opponent. The Gators beat Gonzaga in that overtime thriller in Portland for the PK80. Last weekend, they took down Cincinnati. Both wins were on neutral floors, although Gonzaga was close to home in Portland.
Florida isn’t built to cruise through the regular season and get a one-seed, or even a two. They are small, take a ton of threes and don’t have a lockdown defense to lean on when those threes aren’t falling. I believe it will end up proving to be a streaky team because so much has to do with the confidence of its outside shooters. The Gators can ride a wave of confidence to beat any number of tough opponents, but also one that will lose games to inferior teams if Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen aren’t feeling good enough to hoist it from anywhere, anytime. They are playing their best when they flirt with the line of overconfidence. Florida’s fortune in the NCAA Tournament won’t so much depend on what line it ends up on, but rather that confidence.
The Duke game sucked some of Florida’s confidence and as a result the Gators dropped the next two against teams they could very easily destroy had their confidence been higher. Florida didn’t rediscover its swagger in its win over Cincinnati — Allen never got going and Hudson attempted just eight shots from the field — but an ugly win is an important first step. Had Florida lost that game, I would have liked Clemson straight-up. As it stands now, Florida has a decent chance of picking up more speed by winning this game and covering.
But that’s far from a guarantee. It’s quite possible the Gators come out a little hesitant; and if that happens, Clemson is a good enough team to take advantage. ESPN’s model gives the Tigers a 49 percent chance of winning and KenPom’s model has them just three points behind the Gators. Clemson has given up just 64 points per game, albeit against some weak mid-majors. It’s an indication of what sort of basketball it plays, though. If the Tigers can keep things slow, they can make Florida claustrophobic in the half-court and use their size to crash the offensive boards.
It’s a scary pick because Florida has so much talent and could win this game by 20. But until the Gators get rolling again, they are a fade spot, especially as favorites against teams they can’t simply overwhelm with one-on-one play. I’m sprinkling some on the Clemson moneyline, too.
Free Pick: Clemson +5