MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The top-seeded Gators (34-2) and fourth-seeded Bruins (28-8) tip-off tonight (9:45 p.m., CBS) in the Sweet 16, and while everyone -- yours truly included -- has focused on contrasting styles, tempo and dueling point guards, here’s three under-the-radar keys to watch tonight.
1. Coaching disparity
Another popular pregame narrative has been the parallels between Florida coach Billy Donovan and UCLA coach Steve Alford. They both were savvy point guards who led their respective teams to the 1987 Final Four. They both have sons who play for them. They both went to the Sweet 16 (as coaches) for the first time in 1999.
To me though, the similarities end there.
While Alford was the better player, Donovan has proven to be the superior coach -- by multiple Pauley Pavillions.
Donovan has 33 NCAA Tournament victories -- 26 more wins than Alford (7).
Alford, who advanced past the opening weekend for the first time in 14 years, is a charismatic coach known mostly for doing more with less and less with more.
College hoops is full over over-zealous coaching but if matters Thursday night, the nation’s best team clearly has the better sideline pedigree.
2. Free Throw Shooting
It’s simple really: During the 2013-14 season, Florida (usually) stunk at the charity stripe, while UCLA (traditionally) succeeded.
The Gators made 20-of-27 free throws in the second- and-third round of the NCAA Tournament, but they still rank No. 280 nationally in overall percentage (66.3).
UCLA ranks No. 21 (74.9 percent) in the country at the charity stripe, as four of five starters shoot at least 77 percent.
Jordan Adams, UCLA’s prolific scoring swingman, shoots nearly 84 percent at the line and has made (156) and attempted (186) more free throws than any player on Florida’s roster.
If the game is close late, the Bruins definitely hold the edge at the line.
3. Who slows down Patric Young?
Yes, UCLA poses challenging matchups playing upside down -- its guards post up and its bigs shoot -- but what about the showdown on the other end of the floor?
The Wear twins are both 6-10, but power -- especially dogged, desperate strength -- can trump length. Patric Young, averaging 8.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in the tournament, is determined for another crack at the Elite Eight and a final chance to make the Final Four.
Can the Wear twins (along with Tony Parker) match his interior-presence, effort and intensity?
***** BONUS Q *****
Both teams rely on freshmen guards off the bench (UCLA: Zach LaVine, Bryce Alford; UF: Kasey Hill) -- who shines or shudders on the big stage?
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