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Tyrese Samuel believes Florida Gators have Final Four potential

On3 imageby:Zach Abolverdi02/28/24

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Todd Golden | Florida-Missouri Preview

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Following their latest victory over Vanderbilt, the Gators are now a lock for the 2024 NCAA Tournament according to ESPN’s bracket watch. In his most recent projections, John Gasaway moved Florida from the “should be in” category in the last update to a “lock”.

UF is 8-2 over the last 10 games and will reach 20 wins and 10 SEC victories by beating Missouri on Wednesday. Tip is at 6:30 p.m. on SEC Network.

With March Madness approaching, senior forward Tyrese Samuel was asked what the ultimate potential of this team can be.

“Final Four,” Samuel said. “As a first half team, I think we’re best in the country when it comes to the first half. Once we know how to finish out our games, just continue to play highly aggressive and with good defense in the second half, we can beat anyone in the country.”

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi said the Gators were “knocking on the door of a 6” seed after their win vs. Vandy, and the latest tournament projections currently have them as a 6, 7 or 8 seed.

Florida hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2021, missing the Big Dance the past two seasons.

“It would mean everything,” Samuel said of getting a win in the tourney this year. “I think we can be good enough to make a deep run. I think we’re a Final Four team. Just our length, our size and our depth. So, it would mean everything to me. I think it would mean everything to this program and especially for all of our players.”

Tyrese Samuel Q&A

On if Florida has exceeded what he thought it would be:

Samuel: “Most definitely, it has exceeded my expectations for sure. I know when I came here on my visit, I knew this would be a perfect fit. But, being here the last couple of months, well everything you can imagine is here. So, most definitely it has exceeded.”

On if NIL played into his decision to come to Florida:

Samuel: “Definitely, probably, but I just wanted to come here to make sure I have a good season. That was all that was on my mind, the least of my worries. But, for the most part, having a good season obviously the more opportunities come around. It goes without saying you play good and the team beats someone so its kind of like, I feel like that’s just what we’re saying.”

On the bigs being like a team within a team:

Samuel: “I feel like us together, me, Condo, Micah and Tommy, I feel like we have a good bond together. I kind of teach them here and there but I feel like we’re very connected. We’re always shooting free throws together. Because we all have to do the same job, so I’m sharing my insight and what’s going in during the game. I feel like that’s what’s made us really close.”

On if he’s like the big brother of the bunch:

Samuel: “Yeah, for sure, I’ve played enough games. I think I’m 146 now or something like that. Try to share a little knowledge that I got.”

On playing a leadership role with the young guys:

Samuel: “A lot. I tell them sometimes in the game, kind of like slow down, just let the game come to you. Don’t try to force it. Don’t try to make a home run play. Little things like that. Most important, they kind of know what’s kind of going on. They’re very good freshmen. Sometimes you know you just need to get slowed down. That’s probably the main thing, but overall they’re really good.”

On the rebounding need to improve after the last two games:

Samuel: “Just got to go out there a little bit more aggressive. I know a lot of teams, they’re goal is to make sure we don’t get rebounds because that’s one of our strengths and lately we haven’t been doing a very good job of that. So, I just think we just got to come out a little more aggressive, be even more aggressive that we usually do to get back on top of the rebounding.”

On long rebounds from jump shots the last two games impacting numbers:

Samuel: “I feel that too. I feel like once the ball gets on the rim in the paint, we usually get those, but the long rebounds, that’s what we’ve been struggling with a little bit. They took a lot of long shots, took a lot of contested shots, so a lot more long rebounds. We have to carve out our space so we can get to those 50/50 balls.”

On what will it take to close teams out better:

Samuel: “Right now I wish I could give you an answer, but I think it’s just, you know, staying mentally locked in. I know we’ve been winning by a lot, but just staying locked in for the second half.”

On how much the players have discussed this:

Samuel: “Most definitely, I know like at one point in the season we were allowing teams to score 50 points in the second half so … make sure we’ve got to play defense. In those games like we expressed that, we kind of came out and played pretty decent in the second half. Something like that, just kind of express what we need to get done in the second half during halftime.”  

On playing in the SEC vs. the Big East:

Samuel: “The SEC is super-fast paced, super athletic, wings, very good guards and everything. Big East the physicality is a little bit different it’s a lot more slower a little more grind down on the shot clock, run a lot more plays. Here it’s kind of more up and down more than the Big East, yeah just grinding out plays, physical and who can like, who can be the better defensive team at the end of the day, and I think that’s the difference to what the Big East and SEC is.”

On how deep Florida’s roster has proved to be:

Samuel: “It’s great it just shows teams can’t just relax because all 15 of us, we’re just a very deep team and I feel like we all help each other, we complement each other really well, and we’re a really big team. So, teams always have to keep big guys out there. They can’t just go small ball against us. I feel like that our length that we’re able to shoot, pass and make plays under pressure. I feel like that’s one of our benefits with this team.”

On being more confident in putting ball on the floor:

Samuel: “A lot more confident. When you are a freshman, you don’t want to make too much mistakes. You occasionally get into a much faster, you always want to try to make the right play mistakes happen. As you get older and you know that mistakes happen and you’ve just kind of have to play the game. LeBron James makes mistakes, everyone make mistakes, so you just got to start out there with the confidence that you believe in all the time you put in to make those plays in a game.”

On being able to put bad plays behind him and stay focused:

Samuel: “I probably got that way during the season, in my junior season I realized that it’s OK to miss shots. You can’t make every one, so I kind of put it behind me. My coaches back at home in Canada used to tell me, you might miss one, but sometimes you see it on my face that I’m thinking about the next shot, and like, I gotta get out of that mentality, As I got a little bit older I just realized like it’s OK to miss because not every game is going to be a good game or a good shooting performance. That’s what they said.”

On how Todd Golden’s motivational tactics compare to other coaches:

Samuel: “He’s probably one of the best at it. He’s very positive. Very positive. He always comes with good energy, just to make sure he tells you to be a monster out there, just play your game and everything else will kind of fall into place, that’s one thing he tells you at practice, before practice, in practice and during the game. Bad plays just kind of keep on playing. He’s one of the best at that.”

On reaching the point where UF is on a roll and it’s about fine-tuning:

Samuel: “Most definitely. I think those little things, I feel like we are aware of them so we’ve just got to find a way to just kind of like figure out how to be a better second half team, like I said before we’ve just got to find that little niche or whatever it is to kind of keep us going, because a lot of teams try to go zone against us but we’ve just got to fix that because lately we haven’t and you know we put in our little plays and things like that, yeah, we’ve just got to find that little niche and what we need to just stay confident out there in the second half.”

On the importance of getting to 20 wins, 10 in SEC:

Samuel: “It’s really important I think once you get 20 wins you kind of solidify yourself as far as the tournament, that’s one thing but I just think that getting those 20 wins shows that, we kind of started out kind of slow kind of like in the middle at first but now we show that we’re a good team and we can pack up wins especially late in the season.”

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