Men’s Basketball NCAA Tournament South Region Elite 8 Game Breakdowns
In what may have been the best end of the game sequence in the tournament, the Michigan Wolverines erased a 14-point deficit to stun No. 1 seed Kansas to advance to the Elite Eight. In a game where talent is matched on both squads, it comes down to execution and will. Superstar point guard Trey Burke had a sensational night. He took over down the stretch to finish with 23 points and 10 assists. Down by about 10 for most of the game, Michigan methodically closed at the end of the game. Burke hit two huge threes at the end of regulation to tie it and send it into the extra session. In overtime, Michigan had a ton of confidence and scored timely buckets. It may have been a fatal Kansas error though that ended up winning them the game. Elijah Johnson inexplicably passed up a lay-up to tie the game in order to look for a kick-out three. Naadir Tharpe missed at the buzzer, and the Wolverines won. Freshman center Mitch McGary, despite having some turnovers, had another big game in this tournament with 25 points and 14 rebounds. He has been a big part of this winning streak. Michigan is tough to beat when they play at this level.
They will face a Florida team that once again silenced the Cinderella story. Florida Gulf Coast came out firing against the Gators. They were draining threes and flying high early. Florida was in a ten point hole in the first 10 minutes of the first half. As the game wore on, the physical difference between the teams began to show itself. While the overall difference in rebounding was minimal, the Gators dominated on the offensive glass. They basically doubled the amount of possessions the Eagles had. Patric Young and Will Yeguete were enforcers underneath the basket. They were tapping balls back or gobbling them up in order to fight for another shot. The real story of this game was the turnovers. Billy Donovan’s teams are known to play a stingy pressure defense. Tonight was a perfect example. They forced 21 turnovers (to just 11 of their own), including 13 steals. They kept the Eagles out of rhythm to a point where they could not run and “fly high” like they had been able to do in the first two games. Their half-court offense was much less effective, despite shooting better than Florida over the course of the game. They just could not accumulate enough possessions to find a way to win. Florida finds itself in the Elite Eight yet again and yet again they beat a team on a magical run.
This regional final has the makings of a physical game. It is only fitting that these two would play each other since they were atop their conferences for most of the year. The athletic big men will be battling for position all game long. Will McGary be able to keep up these fantastic performances? Up to this point in the tournament, he has not seen players as talented as Young, Murphy and Yeguete. Despite his Big Ten experience, the pressure might be too great on him to keep it up. Michigan’s guards outshine Florida’s. Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. are one of the best tandems in the country. Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario are good players in their own right, but they just are not as electric as the other two guys. Michigan likes to get up and down and score. Florida likes to play frustrating defense. Which side will win out? A high scoring game may actually favor the Gators. They are still undefeated when scoring 70+ points per game. Burke is the superstar here, and superstars make special plays on special days. If he has some more magic in him, Sunday would be the time to show it. Either team is good enough to win. Donovan has plenty of deep tournament coaching experience to find a way to outthink Jon Beilein. It has been nearly 20 years since the Wolverines have been in this position. They cannot let the pressure get to them. No matter the outcome, the certainty is that either team will be a tough out for the winner of the East region in the Final Four. Both of these teams can get to the championship and win it. The battle continues Sunday.