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ESPN breaks down NCAA Tournament prediction for Florida

March Madness is officially here and the Florida Gators will be taking part in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the Todd Golden era, much to the delight of the Gator Nation.

The regular season started off slowly, but after getting a few games into the Southeastern Conference schedule the Orange and Blue shifted gears and climbed rankings, putting it in prime position for the annual Big Dance.

Ahead of the start of this month’s hardcourt action, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi along with Brian Mull broke down the Gators’ strengths and weaknesses, plus a prediction of where they end up.

“Other than a puzzling loss to Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale, the Gators remained on a steady upward arc in SEC play,” Mull offers in support of why Florida will advance. “Walter Clayton Jr. (17 ppg) and Zyon Pullin (15.7 ppg, 5.8 apg) are stone-cold playmakers late in tight games. Tyrese Samuel (13.8 ppg, 7.5 apg) is a physical interior force in the nation’s 17th most efficient offense.”

However, there are reasons why they will not advance.

“Despite having the nation’s 11th tallest team per KenPom, the Gators struggled to defend the paint and leading rebounder, 7-1 sophomore Micah Handlogten, suffered a season-ending leg injury in the SEC title game,” he notes.

“They are 202nd in defensive rebounding percentage and allowed opponents to make 48.1% of their 2-point shots (104th). The Gators were also prone to cold shooting nights.”

As for Lunardi’s outlook, things are pretty grim.

“The loss of Handlogten is troubling,” he begins. “A potential Sweet 16 team, the Gators now figure to struggle against whoever emerges from the First Four (Boise State or Colorado). I would take either over Florida at this point, which is unfortunate given its impressive growth under Golden.”

Lunardi predicts that Florida will finish the final field ranked No. 38.

Florida will open up tournament play against the winner of Wednesday’s Boise State Broncos-Colorado Buffaloes play-in game on Friday, March 22, at 4:30 p.m. ET.

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Story originally appeared on Gators Wire