NCAA Tournament Preview: (1) Florida Gators vs (16) Albany Great Danes
Betting odds courtesy of 5dimes
The 32-2 Florida Gators have won 26 straight games, its last loss having come on Dec 2 to then-No. 12 Connecticut. Billy Donovan’s squad won the SEC title 61-60 over Kentucky on Mar 16 and will enter its second round matchup against Albany a heavy favorite. College basketball oddsmakers at 5dimes set the Gators as 21.5 points favorites over the Great Danes.
Albany finished 19-14 on the season with a 9-7 record in the America East Conference. Despite finishing with a plus-.500 record, the team ranked near the bottom of all D-1 schools in assists per game and in the bottom-third of team shooting (43.9 percent, 190th). The Great Danes have four players averaging double-figure scoring on the team, though, as part of a balanced attack.
Peter Hooley, a 6’4″ sophomore combo guard, leads the team with 15.4 points per game while knocking down 39.3 percent of his shots behind the arc (and attempting 5.6 per game). The Great Danes shoot 36.1 percent from three-point range as a team, so if it gets cooking from behind the arc it may be able to keep it close, for a half at least.
The Kentucky matchup was likely a good wakeup for Florida heading into the tournament, if there was any tendencies to become complacent in the midst of such a long winning streak. The Gators hit 8-of-19 from deep in the game and had a plus-2 advantage on the boards.
The Achilles’ heel of this Gators squad may not show up until later rounds, though it nearly did rear its head against Kentucky. Florida hit just 7-of-17 from the free throw line (41.2 percent) and Scottie Wilbekin missed two crucial ones late in the game. The Gators shot 66.6 percent from the line over the course of the 2013-14 season, and even with such a strong team, free throws often do end up making a major difference. Don’t expect it to matter against Albany, though.
The Gators have four seniors in its starting five and a strong, balanced team. Casey Prather, Wilbekin, Michael Frazier II and Patric Young all average double-figures, and Florida shot 46.3 percent from the floor this year as a team.
Florida’s only two losses this year both came to tough ranked opponents (UConn and Wisconsin), and to see the team lose to a mid-major school and No. 16 seed in the first round would be utterly shocking. That said, it’s difficult to get a gauge on whether Florida can cover the 21.5 point spread in college odds. The talent is there, but it ultimately depends on how well Albany can defend the three-point shot. The Great Danes haven’t faced a tough opponent all season, though, so expect this to be a big adjustment from playing the lackluster schools in its schedule.
ALB Trends: UNDER 7-2 in last 9 neutral site games; UNDER 11-4 in last 15 overall.
FLA Trends: UNDER 30-12-1 in last 43 overall; OVER 14-6 in last 20 NCAA tournament games; UNDER 7-3 in last 10 neutral site games