Elite Eight Preview: Michigan

While Florida ended one fairy tale Friday night, the Gators will look towards a fabled superstition Sunday afternoon; third times a charm. Florida advanced to their third straight Elite Eight on Friday night by defeating Florida Gulf Coast University by a score of 62-50.

On Sunday, the Gators will take on the Michigan Wolverines for a right play in the Final Four in Atlanta. The matchup will mark the third ever meeting between the two programs, with the series currently tied at one win apiece. Michigan will certainly be the most challenging the team the Gators have faced so far this tournament.

On Saturday afternoon, Donovan spoke of the challenge ahead of his team, “Burke is just terrific. Great assist turnover ratio, explosive scorer and certainly with him he has got a great ability to get everybody involved. Whether it’s McGary up front, Hardaway, Robinson on the perimeter, and offensively to take over a game like he did in the second half with Kansas. This is a great challenge, maybe the best offensive team in the country.”

The Wolverines are as good as they come offensively and may posses the best backcourt in the country led by sophomore Big Ten player of the year Trey Burke. Burke is an extremely gifted guard that is explosive off the dribble, posting the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country, with 212 assists to just 61 turnovers for a ratio of 3.5 during the season.

A great point guard is not a new challenge for the Gators this year, as they have shut down a number of the top floor managers in the country. “I would say the closest player that we face to him is probably Phil Pressey, but I’d say he does a better job of scoring than Pressey,” Scottie Wilbekin said when asked about Michigan’s star on Saturday. “He’s a great player and he does a great job of getting into the lane. Once he gets in there, he can either finish himself or find all the shooters they have or McGary inside. It’s definitely going to be a challenge and we’ve got to be on edge the whole game.”

Burke was held scoreless in the first half of the Wolverine’s Sweet Sixteen game before exploding for 23 points and 10 assists in their come from behind win over Kansas. In fact, the 23-point and 10 assists were the most in a Sweet Sixteen game by any player since Florida coach Billy Donovan accomplished the feat during his playing days at Providence.

Along with Burke, the Wolverines possess some skilled shooters in Nik Stauskas (11.3 ppg) and NBA offsprings Glen Robinson III (11.1) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.8 ppg). Michigan’s biggest threat inside comes with big Mitch McGary. McGary (7.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is a force scoring and rebounding on the offensive end of the floor. “He is active and he plays with a lot of energy, as well as being strong and physical,” Erik Murphy said about McGary on Saturday. “I just have to try and match his energy and physicality, obviously he is a good player so it will be a challenge for us.”

Michigan will play fast and try to score quickly in transition against the Gators. Michigan is a strong rebounding team but I believe Florida will challenge them well in the post. For the Gators to have success, Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin will have to be on the hip of Trey Burke every time he comes off a screen. This game will be won in the matchup between Michigan’s fast scoring offense and Florida’s grinding defense.

The Gators possess advantages in both experience and depth; two factors that often are important late in the NCAA tournament and after such a quick turnaround for both schools. Despite the in-depth look, Patric Young put the game in simple terms, “when it comes down to it, you just have to come to play.”

Every Gator fan knows the past, Florida has stumbled in their last two Elite Eight matchups after allowing double digit second half leads crumble into losses at the hands of Butler and Louisville the past two seasons. Many members of the Gator team talked at length on Saturday about playing a passionate full forty minutes this time around. “I think we remember what happened in the past two years, but I think like Coach said, this is a different team,” senior Kenny Boynton said. “I think what we learned is we need to play our full 40 minutes.” There is nothing left to be said, the Gators have fought to get back to this opportunity since last year’s heartbreak and will have to fight for a strong 40 minutes against a talented Michigan team for a chance to play in their first Final Four since 2007.

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Seth Puglio
Seth Puglio joined GatorCountry while he was finishing his sports management degree at the University of Florida. Originally from Vero Beach, Florida, Seth has been a huge sports fan his whole life and always knew he would want to get into the sports industry anyway he could. He has spent time working for several athletic administrative departments for the Gators and joined Gator Country as an intern in October of 2012. He is now viewing the sports industry from a new angle as Gator Country’s editor. In his free time Seth enjoys fishing, grilling out, watching too much sports and afternoon naps on the hammock. He is a fan of the Gators, Miami Dolphins, Orlando Magic, Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning. Follow Seth on twitter @spuglio