Florida's Scottie Lewis (23) and Tre Mann (1) leave the court after Florida beat Vanderbilt in an NCAA college basketball game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Gators Men’s Hoops open NCAA Tourney against Hokies

The Gators and the Hokies tip off in the first game of the Round of 64. A matchup between the seven-seed Florida and the ten-seed Virginia Tech pits two teams the enter the game with fluctuating seasons.

Gators’ Recent Struggles

Florida’s Tre Mann (1) is defended by Tennessee’s Keon Johnson (45) and Jaden Springer (11) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Friday, March 12, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Florida sits at (14-9) after their regular season and 1-1 showing in the SEC Tournament. Their selection as a seven-seed in the NCAA tournament surprised a handful of fans. Perhaps that can be attributed to their recent form.

Coming into Friday afternoon’s game against the Hokies, Florida won once in their last four games. That lone win came against a lowly Vanderbilt side, while the three losses were against Missouri then Tennessee twice.

Florida men’s basketball head coach Mike White joined SportScene with Steve Russell to discuss the Gators’ tournament aspirations. He says every loss in unacceptable, but their recent schedule has been no cakewalk.

In their recent struggles, Florida has been dominated in the paint. Missouri scored 32 in the paint; Tennessee scored 44 and 34 in the paint. In all these games, that is nearly half of the oppositions points.

Conversely, the Gators averaged just over 26 points per game in the paint. If scoring in the tough areas is challenging for coach White’s squad, it will soon become tougher. He says his scouting report shows a physically demanding presence from the Hokies.

One positive point for the Gators is the play of Tre Mann. The sophomore point guard has been the shining light for the Gators as the season wound down.

Mann missed the Gators first loss against the Volunteers, but averaged over 24 points per game over his last three. Look for Mann to be a force against Virginia Tech on Friday. However, Florida’s big-men will need to step up against a “big body” team like the Hokies.

Hokies Enter After Topsy-Turvy Season

Virginia Tech may be the lower-seed in this matchup, but they are not a slouch of an opponent. The Hokies have some key wins this season, but their layoffs due to COVID-19 threw off any rhythm this season. Mike Burnop, an analyst covering the Hokies, joined Steve Russell to discuss his team’s season.

Akuma Hokies
Virginia Tech guard Tyrece Radford (23) blocks the shot of North Carolina forward Day’Ron Sharpe (11) as Virginia Tech forward Justyn Mutts (25) looks on during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday, March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Burnop has extensive knowledge of the Hokies, and thus knows their strengths and weaknesses. He says their biggest X-factor is Keve Aluma.

Aluma, a 6’9 RS-Junior forward, leads Virginia tech in numerous categories: points per game (15.6), rebounds per game (8.0) and blocks (28).

Aluma transferred to Blacksburg when current Hokies-head coach Mike Young came over from Wofford.

Burnop says Aluma’s impact since coming over from Wofford has been wildly noticeable.

Aluma leads a team that can attack from different angles with different players. Virginia Tech shoots 45 percent from the field and 35 percent from three, fifth in the ACC.

So, the Gators should be expecting different plays to defend against throughout this game. Burnop says while the Hokies may not be the deepest team in the NCAA Tournament field, they use their players effectively in different situations.

Simultaneously, Virginia tech defends well. The Hokies give up 65.5 points per game on average, good for third in the ACC. Also, they are fourth in the ACC in opponent field goal percentage, conceding on 42 percent of shot attempts.

Tip-Off

Florida and Virginia Tech’s matchup is the first game in the round of 64 in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. While they would usually play on Thursday, tip off is set for Friday at 12:15. Coverage of the game will be on CBS.

About Kyle Fansler

Originally from Seminole in the Tampa Bay area, Kyle is a contributor for ESPN Gainesville as well as local NPR and PBS affiliate WUFT. Kyle wants to get into sports with a lofty dream of being a sports broadcaster. He was raised playing soccer and baseball while watching hockey and football, so the knowledge about various sports is fairly extensive.

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