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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Even though it’s only the Sweet 16 round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, if the Florida Gators are destined to reach the Final Four in Dallas, their toughest preliminary opponent will be the UCLA Bruins. The top-seeded Gators dispatched with Albany and Pittsburgh in workmanlike fashion to reach this weekend’s action in Memphis. If they take care of business Thursday, they’ll face the winner of Stanford (#10 seed) and Dayton (#11 seed).

So, THURSDAY is most likely going to tell us what we need to know about Florida’s chances to run the table and win the national championship. If they impress here…then Saturday’s game should be easy…and the Gators would remain a frontrunner to go the distance. A nailbiter…and you have to wonder how Florida would match up against opponents much more dangerous than UCLA (who will surely be waiting in Dallas). A loss? That’s very possible given how hot UCLA has been in recent weeks, and how meekly what was largely this same group of Gators went out a year ago to Michigan.

Florida’s biggest test of the year is at hand. Let’s see what the computers say about their win and cover potential.


Computer Rankings

UCLA: #11 in Pomeroy, #8 in Sagarin

Florida: #1 in Pomeroy, #3 in Sagarin

Both college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin see UCLA as much better than a #4 seed right now. Sagarin would have them as high as a #2 seed! Pomeroy isn’t that far behind. We’re talking about a UCLA team that stormed through the Pac 12 tournament, beating Sweet 16 cohorts Stanford and Arizona along the way. And, this is a group that’s clearly come together at the right time in terms of attacking on offense and challenging their opponents. If you were just using the seeding process to evaluate schedules…then UCLA represented Florida’s toughest test. The computers make that point even more stridently.


Offensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)

UCLA: #12

Florida: #18

As we move to matchup analysis, you can see that UCLA wins with offense. Pomeroy adjusts for pace and schedule strength. UCLA’s attacking style (a mix of pace and fury) grades out very well because they tack a lot of free throws onto their production from the floor. We’ve seen this style thrive often in recent Dances. Aggression is rewarded. Florida is also very efficient on a per-possession basis. They just do that in slower-tempo games with good execution and three-point volume.


Defensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)

UCLA: #45

Florida: #2

This is why Florida is a serious national championship contender. And, this is where UCLA is likely to be in some trouble. Defense wins championships! UCLA will aggressively be running right into the mouth of that clenching Gators’ defense. While, Florida’s efficient offense won’t have it quite so difficult. Florida is favored because of its defense. And, the market price you’ll see in a moment reflects how much respect oddsmakers and sharps have for defense.


Pace Ranking

UCLA: #42

Florida: #320

Here’s what we mean about the different styles. UCLA was one of the fastest teams in the tournament. Florida was in a large group of very slow contenders. In past Dances, fast had been trumping slow because so many one-and-done athletes attack the basket. This year, it’s more about “slow and steady wins the race” across the landscape. Just remember that slow and steady hasn’t been winning too many Dances of late.


Against the Spread

UCLA: 23-12

Florida: 17-14-1

An important time to note that UCLA has been extremely underrated by the markets all season. They weren’t supposed to win the Pac 12 tournament. They weren’t supposed to soar past Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin as easily as they did against the game-day prices (too bad fans were robbed of UCLA-VCU!). Florida is a bit in the black after vigorish. UCLA has made its backers a lot of cash this season.


Vegas Line: Florida by 4.5, total of 137

That’s a bit higher than you’d expect given the computer ratings. The game opened at Florida -4.5. Any stores testing the full five saw underdog money come in. A lot to like about both teams in this game…which is why it’s the showcase showdown of Thursday Night…and JIM HURLEY’S choice for expanded coverage here in the NOTEBOOK!

You can get the final word from JIM HURLEY in all of Thursday’s action right here at the website with your credit card. Selections will go up early in the day so you’ll have plenty of time to use the information. If you have any questions, call our handicapping office during normal business hours Thursday at 1-888-777-4155. (And don’t forget to ask about Major League Baseball when you call!)

Back with you tomorrow to run these same numbers for the much-anticipated Louisville-Kentucky game that highlights Friday’s card. Then, Saturday and Sunday…we’ll double-up with all the Elite 8 action right here in the NOTEBOOK (using the same format we featured in the NIT Tuesday and Wednesday).

The first weekend of the Big Dance was fantastic. But, THE WINNING IS JUST BEGINNING here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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