As I've let slip from time to time, while I got my undergraduate degree in Chapel Hill, I also a picked up a sheepskin at UC Santa Barbara. And while you never love your graduate athletic department like you do your undergrad, I did spend some time at the Thunderdome – yes, the Gauchos play in a building called the Thunderdome – and since there's no SB Nation blog devoted to that crazy little beach town, I thought I'd give Gators fans an idea of what they have to expect.
This was supposed to be Santa Barbara's year, actually. They had the returning Big West player of the year in Orlando Johnson, a 6'5" swingman who transferred from Loyola Marymount a few years ago and pretty much took over the team. They also had James Nunnally on the wing, another great shooter who's good on the boards. What they didn't have was anyone else.
It's not particularly difficult to shut down a two-man team, so the Gauchos struggled, going only .500 in conference play and having an embarrassing loss or two outside of it, most notably dropping a game to North Dakota State. Needless to say, they wouldn't be here had they not won the three games of the Big West Tournament, in their case by an average of 13 points. They turned things around by jettisoning their zone defense for a man-to-man, which helped tighten up their three-point shooting defense in particular. They also got three tremendous games from Johnson.
Florida, needless to say, is a much tougher opponent that the Gauchos are used to. But they matchup well. Florida prefers a slow tempo and likes to score from the inside with big men Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin. They don't take too many threes and their defense isn't built on turnover-generation, which has been UCSB's achilles heel this season. More importantly, despite the Gauchos two big scoring threats coming from undersized wings, they do have the height to defend Florida. They get limited minutes from the tallest player in the tournament, 7'3" Greg Somogyi, and start 6'10" senior Jon Pastorek, an offensive rebounding specialist. Of course, Florida rebounds very well themselves, and Santa Barbara will have to limit that or they're just going to be blow away by the Gators' second chances.
This is a winnable game for Santa Barbara, but a lot of things are going to have fall the right way for them. They're not the dark horse everyone's going to pick in their pools (I did, of course, but I'm biased) but Florida is highly overseeded as a two, and this is where these types of shockers happen. If Florida gets some lackluster crowd support – and there will be a lot of angry Kentucky fans in the same building bitter that the Wildcats are a four – and some excellent play from their two stars, it just may be enough to send the Gators packing.