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Can Gators display the patience needed to take down Wisconsin?

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As the Florida Gators prepare to take on the Wisconsin Badgers in Friday night’s Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden, an old saying applies to Florida players, coaches and fans: Patience is a virtue.

But that is what is required to play against the well-coached, disciplined Badger team.

On defense, eighth-seeded Wisconsin plays tough and aggressively, hoping to force undisciplined teams into taking quick shots. On offense, they are not afraid to run the shot clock down to the last five seconds before winding up with a shot from the paint or a three-pointer from sharpshooters like Bronson Koenig and D’Mitrik Trice.

Both of these areas present challenges for the fourth-seeded Gators. Both were problems for the tournament’s top team, evidenced by Wisconsin’s 65-62 upset of Villanova.

On paper, Florida matches up well. Offensive stats are nearly identical.

Florida has played strong defense this season and is capable of giving Wisconsin plenty of problems. After some early season shortcomings, the Gators have come together on the defensive end, including creating turnovers into baskets on the offensive end.

“It’s why we continue to improve, even this late in the year, on the defensive end,” said Gators’ Head Coach Mike White, the SEC Coach of the Year.

Three things to feel good about Friday’s game.

  1. Devin Robinson’s inspired play in the tournament. He can cause a lot of problems for the Badgers inside and outside.
  2. Wisconsin is similar to Virginia. Although the Badgers are a bit better offensively, they play a methodical style of basketball, which worked out great for Florida last week.
  3. Florida’s advantage in free throw shooting could help them win a close game.

Three things to be concerned about

  1. If Florida’s first few shots do not fall, can they avoid falling into Wisconsin’s hands by putting up quick shots?
  2. If Florida loses discipline late in the shot clock on defense and lets Koenig or Trice get free, look out.
  3. If Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes get Robinson and Kevarrius Hayes in foul trouble, they could dominate inside, especially without the injured John Egbunu.

Intangibles: In a word, experience. Wisconsin starts four seniors who have played in two Final Fours. Happ, a sophomore, is the only underclassman.

Kasey Hill is the only Gator who has played in a Final Four (2014), let alone the Sweet 16. It would be great to have senior Egbunu, but…

White has already shown he is among the best in his profession. So has Wisconsin’s Greg Gard.

It will be decided on the court starting Friday night around 10:00 p.m.


Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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