Second chances can be hard to come by, but on the Arlington, Texas hardwood Sunday afternoon, the Florida Gator men’s basketball team (29-7, 14-4 SEC) has its third chance to break through to the Final Four in as many seasons as the third seeded Gators take on the fourth seeded Michigan Wolverines (29-7, 12-6 Big Ten) in an NCAA Regional final.
The Gators notched a 62-50 victory over the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles in the Sweet 16 on Friday evening, led by 15 points by Mike Rosario while limiting their 24th opponent to under 60 points this season.
Although effective shooting was an issue at times against FGCU, the Gators have shot .500 or better from the field in 14 games. Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy, Kenny Boynton, and Patric Young are in double figures scoring on the season. Rosario has led the Gators on the stat sheet for two games in a row, averaging 12.6 points per game on the season.
Defense wins championships, and it will likely be the key to Florida’s success in the regional final. UF wields the nation’s top scoring margin at +18.1, allowing merely 53.7 points per game and holding opponents to a field goal percentage of .379, the lowest percentage the Orange and Blue have forced since the 1957-1958 campaign (.367). The Gators forced 20 turnovers on Friday, the most forced by the program in the postseason since 2005, when the Gators pressed the Ohio Bobcats into 20 turnovers in the tournament’s opening round.
Michigan is led by Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke, who averages 18.9 points per game and has tallied 246 assists on the season. With his guidance, the Wolverines have averaged 75.4 points per game and shoot .486 from field goal range. Burke helped the Maize and Blue clinch their Elite Eight berth with a clutch 3 pointer from far outside the arc in the waning seconds of regulation, forcing overtime against Kansas. Michigan bounced the top seeded Jayhawks 87-85 with 23 points from Burke and 25 from the team’s leading rebounder, Mitch McGary. UM shoots .381 from long distance, and the trio of Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Nik Stauskas have each hit more than 69 3s this season.
In the last 18 NCAA Tournament games against lower seeds, the Gators are 17-1. Head coach Billy Donovan’s 31 March Madness wins are the most all time by an SEC coach. Florida’s regional semi-final victory marked the 450th in Donovan’s career. Donovan, who played in the 1987 Final Four with Providence College and has led the Gators there twice, is now 31-10 in the Tournament, surpassing Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp for the most wins by any SEC coach.
The winner of Sunday afternoon’s contest at Cowboys Stadium will play the fourth seeded Syracuse Orange, who defeated the Indiana Hoosiers to punch their first ticket to the Final Four since 2003, when the won the national title with Carmelo Anthony.
Sunday’s matinée is slated to tip off at 2:20pm on CBS. Coverage of the game can be heard live on Country 103.7 The Gator.