Posted: 8:00 a.m. Sunday, March 31, 2013
2:20 pm ET, CBS
It's about to get real for Florida. The Gators have enjoyed the benefits of upsets so far, and technically they still are enjoying them by playing a 4-seed in the Elite Eight. However, this is quite a bit different than what they've seen in the tournament to date. Michigan is the first single digit seed they'll have faced, after going through a 14-seed, 11-seed, and 15-seed.
Against that 15-seed, Florida really struggled on offense. It really wasn't a matter of FGCU playing good defense; the Gators simply just missed a lot of shots. It was one of their worst shooting performances of the season and the second-worst in the team's tournament history. Michigan has the No. 1 offensive efficiency rating according to Ken Pomeroy's system. If the Gators shoot like they did on Friday again, they'll go home at this round for the third consecutive year.
Was it the fault of playing in Cowboys Stadium? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the Wolverines didn't have too much trouble as they shot just under 50% in their win over Kansas.
On defense, Florida will have some interesting choices to make. Both teams start two forwards and three guards, and Michigan will have a size advantage in two of the three spots. Scottie Wilbekin is Florida's best defensive guard and will probably get Trey Burke, but that means Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario will be on guys who are three to four inches taller than they are. Patric Young will get Mitch McGary inside, which leaves Erik Murphy to chase around Glenn Robinson III.
It wouldn't be a shock to see, like on Friday, Florida to do better defensively with a lineup that features Will Yeguete or Casey Prather in Murphy's stead, particularly if Murphy is still struggling with the flu. The Gators' senior big man could be a mismatch for good reasons on offense, as Robinson is not going to do well defending the post game. However, Murphy will be a mismatch for not-so-good reasons on the other side.
Michigan relies heavily on its starters, and it's been even more so in the tournament. John Beilein has gone with a tight rotation in which only one bench guy per game has been on the floor for longer than 10 minutes. Every coach shortens the rotation in March, but it's hard to figure out a way to shorten one more than Beilein has. If Florida can force someone on the other side into foul trouble, especially if it's one of the guards, it will seriously disrupt what the Wolverines do. UF has the experience edge for sure as well, as three of those starters for UM are freshmen.
Florida took a punch or two early against Florida Gulf Coast before steadying itself and locking the Eagles down. Michigan will be a far taller task, and it showed on Friday that no lead is really safe against it. Both teams have plenty of motivation here on top of the general desire to make the Final Four. The Gators aren't going to want to come up short in the Elite Eight for three years in a row, while Michigan is the last Big Ten team in the field after Ohio State went down yesterday. If the nation's best conference is going to put a team in Atlanta, it's going to have to happen at 1:20 Arlington time this afternoon.
Florida is the better overall team of these two by a small margin, and it's definitely the better defensive outfit of the two. Defense has been the theme of the Elite Eight so far, so if the trend holds, the Gators will be going to Atlanta.
The pick: Florida 72, Michigan 62