ORLANDO (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – The Florida Gators are hoping to resemble their early-season form as they begin the NCAA Tournament.
Florida is looking to find its stride again after a late-season slide and an early exit from the SEC tournament.
The Gators are the fourth seed in the East region, and while they will be favored in Thursday’s first-round matchup against No. 13 seed East Tennessee State in Orlando, losses in three of their final four games have raised questions on how far the Gators can advance.
Florida, which lost to Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale and again in the SEC quarterfinals, features a balanced offense which finished fourth in the SEC in scoring (78.9 points per game) and a defense ranked 14th nationally against the 3-point shot (30.7 percent).
The Buccaneers won the Southern Conference title and are back in the NCAAs for the first time since 2010, winning nine of their final 10 games.
East Tennessee State is one of the best shooting teams in the country, ranking 10th at 49.1 percent from the field while averaging 79.9 points per contest.
The Buccaneers have faced two SEC teams this season, beating Mississippi State and losing by four to Tennessee.
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ABOUT EAST TENNESSEE STATE (27-7): T.J. Cromer finished second in the Southern in scoring at 19.1 points per game, shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range and 82 percent from the free-throw line.
Cromer tied a conference tournament record with nine 3-pointers against Samford, finishing with a career-high 41 points.
The Buccaneers have shot 840 free throws this season, eighth-highest total in the country, while recording 8.4 steals per contest (14th nationally).
ABOUT FLORIDA (24-8): KeVaughn Allen leads the Gators in scoring at 13.9 points per game and is 16-of-36 from 3-point range in his past five games.
Kasey Hill ranks second in the league in assists (4.6) and fifth in steals (1.7), but in his past five contests has recorded more turnovers (13) than assists (12).
Chris Chiozza led the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.51), while Canyon Barry averages 12.1 points off the bench while shooting 87.8 percent from the free-throw line.
- Florida will be without C and leading rebounder John Egbunu, who tore the ACL in his left knee last month.
- Florida has won all four previous meetings with East Tennessee State, the last coming in 1980.
- The winner will advance to the second round against either fifth-seed Virginia or 12th-seed UNC-Wilmington.
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