College Basketball and the Final Four Moves On, With or Without the Florida Gators

The hangover has ended. The college basketball world has moved on from the Florida Gators’ loss and so must we. We may not want to completely, but it has to happen eventually, so we might as well pull off the band-aid and realize that for the third-consecutive season, the Gators fell just one game short of the Final Four.

2013 Final Four

Without the Gators to spark our interest over the final few days of the 2012-13 college basketball season, we might as well turn our attention to those remaining in the field for an NCAA March Madness update.

Michigan – We’ll start with the Wolverines for no other reason than they were the team that took down our beloved Florida. It was an ugly game during which the Gators never seemed to have any chance of pulling out a victory. Now Michigan moves on with Trey Burke – the Wooden Award winner – and a roster full of big names. There’s a part of me that wants the Wolverines to win it all; sort of that you-beat-us-now-you-might-as-well-keep-winning feeling. Take note, that feeling doesn’t apply to a handful of schools we’d classify as rivals, and as always Ohio State.

Wichita State – Then there’s the underdog. It’s hard not to cheer for the little guy that wasn’t supposed to be here. Ultimately though, the little guy exits without the trophy. Butler came close not once, but twice, but we haven’t had that true Cinderella finish the story with a happy ending. So with the Shockers comes that part of me that hopes they knock off the big bad schools and “shock the world.” It doesn’t seem likely, but don’t you want to see it happen just once?

Louisville – We move on to the Cardinals and the team that knocked the Gators out of the NCAA Tournament just one year ago. We don’t have a burning desire to want Louisville to win. After all, we still feel the sting of last season and the Sugar Bowl just a few months ago. And there has to be some rule written somewhere about being a Florida fan and not cheering for Rick Pitino, even if he did help Billy Donovan become the coach he is today. In the end though, would we be all that disappointed if they won it for Kevin Ware? Probably not.

Syracuse – And finally we get to the Orange. Hmm. No real reason to cheer for Syracuse from the mindset of a Gators’ fan. Florida last played the Orange on December 2, 2011 and lost. There is no lingering pain from another sport, but also no feel-good story we have a real reason to gravitate to. They are the Orange; we like the color orange. Nope. Not enough. They don’t get a cheering section from this Florida fan and I can’t imagine they do from many others.

Many have made their picks; now it’s your turn. There are three games left. Make your selection.

Who will win the 2013 NCAA Tournament?

    Louisville (80%, 4 Votes)

    Michigan (20%, 1 Votes)

    Syracuse (0%, 0 Votes)

    Wichita State (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 5

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Florida Gators vs. Michigan Wolverines: For a Trip to the Final Four

The Florida Gators have been here before. In fact, the Gators have become a frequent Elite Eight attendee in recent years. Sunday’s game will mark the fifth time in the last eight seasons that head coach Billy Donovan has led Florida to the Elite Eight. The first two ended very well; the most recent two not so much. It’s anyone’s guess what this season’s trip will bring.

Billy Donovan - Florida Gators

We’re hoping it isn’t a repeat of the last two seasons. In 2011, Florida was leading Butler by 11 with less than 10 minutes to play. The Bulldogs overcame the deficit to force overtime where they disposed of the Gators. In 2012, the Gators led by 11 late again, only to watch that lead also evaporate. Louisville marched back to send Florida packing that season. A repeat of those outcomes would be a nightmare for the Gators and Florida fans everywhere. To have the Final Four so close and then watch it be taken away in a few minutes is, well, heartbreaking.

The opponent this time around is Michigan. The same Michigan that gave us the Fab Four in the early 1990s. (WARNING! FOOTBALL MENTION COMING! And an Outback Bowl defeat none of us want to remember.) This Wolverines’ squad has some of that flashy feel to it too, while also feeling a little like the Gators’ 04s. They have links to the NBA–Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are both stars. And there’s the biggest link of them all–Al Horford’s younger brother Jon is a redshirt sophomore forward. Hopefully, this Michigan team doesn’t have the same end to their season that those Florida teams did. We’d all like their run to end here and now.

Few like the Gators in this one, despite the fact that Florida is favored. They feel Michigan may be a team of destiny, while Florida is a team on the brink off running out of steam. The Gators have had moments that almost make those feelings warranted, but there’s something about this team that keeps us believing. A 21-point lead against Minnesota was almost gone when the Gators turned the pressure back up and won easily. Against Florida Gulf Coast, Florida found itself deep in a hole early, only to bounce back and dominate the Eagles over the final 25 minutes. Three games, three wins by at least 12. Again, there’s just something about this team.

It may not be the Hardaways and Robinsons and Horfords that Florida has to worry about most. All good players and contributors (even if Horford is seeing less time), the two hot hands come from elsewhere. Trey Burke only scored six points in the Wolverines’ opening win over South Dakota State, then exploded for 18 and 23 against VCU and Kansas. He’s also averaging eight assists per game in the tournament. Then there’s freshman fan favorite Mitch McGary. Averaging 18.9 minutes per game over the course of the season, McGary has played 25, 34 and 35 in Michigan’s three tournament games. He’s also the Wolverines’ leading scorer in the tourney with 19.7 points per game to go along with 12.3 rebounds. If there’s any one player the Gators need to stop, it might just be McGary.

Donovan will have the Gators ready, but the question is whether they can play at their best for a full 40 minutes. Against Minnesota and Florida Gulf Coast, it may not have been needed. Against Michigan, it’s a must. The Wolverines will take advantage of any misstep by the Gators and it will be that much harder for Florida to hang on. This should be a fun one to watch, but with a Final Four appearance on the line, it’s all business for both teams.