The Florida Gators have advanced to the Elite Eight of the 2012 Men’s Basketball NCAA Tournament and, on Saturday, will face off against the Louisville Cardinals. The Gators reached this point with three-straight double-digit victories, while the Cardinals battled through closer contests. This game really could go either way, as evidenced by the current one-point advantage oddsmakers have given Florida.
Opponent: Louisville Cardinals
When: Sat., Mar. 24, 2012 – 4:30 PM
Where: Phoenix, AZ
Records: Florida: 26-10, Louisville: 29-9
Seeds: Florida: 7, Louisville: 4
Current Streak: Florida: W3, Louisville: W7
Point Spread: Florida -1
Calculated Score: Florida 66-65
Point Scored: Florida: 76.3, Louisville: 68.8
Points Allowed: Florida: 66.0, Louisville: 61.2
As one of the nation’s eight remaining – and eight best – teams, the Florida Gators have the chance to secure one of the golden tickets that warrant passage to the Final Four. Standing firmly in their way are the Louisville Cardinals. The Cards are fresh off taking down No. 1 seed Michigan State, but have to contend with the momentum the Gators are carrying from each round after back-to-back-to-back big wins. There’s the story of the game, then there’s the story of the coaches. Let’s start with the two men on the sidelines.
You know the story. Billy Donovan played for Rick Pitino and coached alongside him. If Donovan had to pick one coach that shaped his career, it would be Pitino. They’re much more than just colleagues, as Pitino has said.
“Not only did we have success together, but we really, truly love each other. Billy is like a son to me.” – Rick Pitino, Louisville Head Coach
Son or not, Saturday is about advancing to the next round and getting one step closer to a national championship. They’ll be no family dinner after this one. Just a firm handshake, a heartfelt congrats, and then planning for the next opponent.
Donovan is rising up the coaching charts rapidly and one day may be considered a better coach than his mentor (if he isn’t by some already). Much of Pitino’s success came at “basketball schools,” while Donovan has done the unthinkable at a school that used to only take notice of games held in The Swamp.
While Donovan is nearly 200 career wins behind Pitino, a lot of that has to do with the fact that Pitino is 13 years his senior. Add another 13 years of winning even only 20 games per season and Donovan passes his former boss easily.
And then there’s the biggest measurement: national championships. Donovan, two. Pitino, one. There’s no denying that Pitino is a great coach. In fact, when Louisville won on Thursday he became 10-0 in Sweet 16 games. Regardless, Donovan has him in the one category that matters the most.
As for the game, the Gators have a few keys. First of all, freshman guard Bradley Beal must continue his rise to greatness. One would hardly call what Beal has done in the Gators’ three tourney games great (it’s more of a good-to-really good with some impressive sprinkled in), but he has carried Florida while others have struggled and he has been the leader on the court. He must continue to play well in all aspects of the game, but he can’t do so alone.
The other Gators have been streaky and that’s a kind way to put it. Florida has so much talent on its roster – as evidenced by the fact that they even got this far – but shooters step up and shooters drop off. Beal needs a gunning buddy in this one. Whether its senior guard Erving Walker, junior guard Kenny Boynton, or junior forward Erik Murphy, the Gators need another shooter to find his stroke against the Cards.
On the defensive end, Florida needs to be aware of Louisville’s entire roster. You can’t beat the Cards by keying on one player. Six individuals average 9.1 points per game or more and no one averages more than 12.9. On offense, they are balanced and on defense it’s much of the same.
Patric Young will have his hands full with sophomore center Gorgui Dieng, but Young may hold the upper hand. Dieng is a load to handle and a master at blocking shots, but Young has shown us all a great deal in recent games. He hasn’t been an offensive star, but he’s been smart on that end of the court. Young has looked like a seasoned veteran at times and can use that to his advantage against Dieng.
This has the potential to be a great game and, as we all are very aware, there’s so much on the line. The Final Four awaits its first team.