Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield has watched his Eagles become the first No. 15 seed in history to reach the Sweet 16 — but the remarkable run that has captured the attention of America faces a huge test today against the third-ranked Florida Gators.
ARLINGTON, Texas — The NCAA could not have picked a more appropriate venue than Cowboys Stadium to host the South Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
The home of America’s team will become the domain for America’s newest darlings when upstart Florida Gulf Coast plays in-state powerhouse Florida today in Arlington, Tex.
The Eagles became the first No. 15 seed in NCAA history to reach the Sweet 16 by blitzing No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State.
While Florida Gulf Coast has captivated the nation, the third-seeded Gators are flying under the radar with dominant wins against Northwestern State and Minnesota to reach the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season. Florida looked like the best team in the country earlier in the season, rolling off 10 straight wins with ease before struggling down the stretch. The Gators are no strangers to the NCAAs biggest stage, having won national championships in 2006 and 2007.
ABOUT FLORIDA GULF COAST (26-10): The Eagles have appeared unflappable through two games, riding the wondrous skills of sophomore point guard Brett Comer, the all-around play of backourt mate Sherwood Brown — the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year — and some high-flying antics that have earned them the moniker “Dunk City.” Bernard Thompson scored 23 points in both tournament wins as Florida Gulf Coast continues to bear little resemblance to the team that lost to Lipscomb (twice), East Tennessee State, Stetson and Maine.
“They play with a swagger, and they have a right to do that,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said.
ABOUT FLORIDA (28-7): The Gators are well equipped to match up against the Eagles. Florida has a deep, experience lineup that features five players averaging between 12.8 and 9.2 points. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin is joined in the backcourt by 2,000-point scorer Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario, who had a career-best 25 points against Minnesota. Forward Erik Murphy provides punch inside, averaging 16.5 points and shooting 72.2 percent in the tournament. Florida thrives on defense, having held 24 opponents under 60 points and limiting 13 to fewer than 50. Finally, coach Billy Donovan knows a little about the dangers of a Cinderella squad. He played point guard and led Providence to the Final Four in 1987.
TIP-INS: Florida, one of four programs to reach the Sweet 16 the past three seasons, is 5-1 in regional semifinals under Donovan ... Florida Gulf Coast joined the Atlantic Sun in 2007, and this season marked only its second year of eligibility for Division I postseason play ... Donovan is one of only four men (Dean Smith, Joe B. Hall and Bobby Knight) to appear in a Final Four as a player and win an NCAA title as a coach.
Michigan State vs. Duke
INDIANAPOLIS — Few teams have experienced more success in Indianapolis during NCAA Tournament play than Duke and Michigan State. Two of college basketball’s premier programs look to continue their incredible run in that city today when the second-seeded Blue Devils face third-seeded Michigan State in the Midwest Regional semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium. Duke has won six of seven NCAA Tournament games in Indianapolis — including a pair of national championships in 1991 and 2010 — while Michigan State is 7-1 in such games, including its last national championship run in 2000.
The Blue Devils advanced to their 13th Sweet 16 in the last 16 years with Sunday’s 66-50 victory against Creighton, while Michigan State cruised to a 70-48 win against Memphis on Saturday for its 11th berth in the regional semifinals during the same span. The winner of this contest will meet top-seeded Louisville or No. 12 seed Oregon in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (27-8): Keith Appling practiced Monday and “is going to be fine,” according to coach Tom Izzo, after injuring his left patellar tendon during the Spartans’ victory against Valparaiso and aggravating a shoulder injury against Memphis. Adreian Payne recorded his first double-double in the NCAA Tournament with 14 points and 10 rebounds against the Tigers. He also added a career-high five blocks, a single-game record by a Michigan State player in a NCAA Tournament game. Gary Harris’ 23 points last Saturday were the most by a Spartans freshman in the Big Dance since Shawn Respert scored 27 against Cincinnati in 1992.
ABOUT DUKE (29-5): Duke turned in its second-worst shooting performance of the season (38.8 percent) against the Bluejays, but held the country’s second-best shooting team to season lows in points and shooting percentage (30.2). Although freshman Amile Jefferson’s two-point, two-rebound performance in 11 minutes wasn’t particularly noteworthy, his defensive effort against All-American forward Doug McDermott — who finished 4-of-16 — played a key role the Blue Devils’ win. Mason Plumlee, Josh Hairston and Ryan Kelly all battled foul trouble. Duke secured its 2,000th victory Sunday, becoming the fourth team to accomplish the feat.
TIP-INS: Duke is 7-1 against Michigan State under coach Mike Krzyzewski, the loss coming in the Sweet 16 in 2005 .... The Spartans boast a plus-23 rebounding margin through two games in the NCAA Tournament (98-52) ... The Blue Devils are one win from hitting 30 victories for the fourth time in the last five years and for the 13th time under Krzyzewski.
Michigan vs. Kansas
ARLINGTON, Texas — Michigan makes its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 since 1994, taking on top-seeded Kansas on Today in Arlington, Tex. The Jayhawks are no stranger to the second week, reaching the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in 10 seasons under coach Bill Self. The fourth-seeded Wolverines beat No. 13-seed South Dakota State (71-56) in the second round and fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (78-53) in the third. The Jayhawks have had a more difficult time advancing. They beat 16th-seeded Western Kentucky in their opener (64-57) followed by a win against eighth-seeded North Carolina (70-58).
Kansas features four seniors in its starting lineup: center Jeff Withey, forward Kevin Young and guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford. By contrast, none of Michigan’s top nine scorers is a senior. The Wolverines don’t have a true center on their roster, so look for them to employ a combination of players against Withey, a skilled 7-footer. Mitch McGary, a 6-10 freshman who averages 18.4 minutes, will likely get the first shot.
ABOUT MICHIGAN (28-7): Trey Burke has done some things in this tournament that he hasn’t done all season. In the opener against South Dakota State, the sophomore point guard and Big Ten Player of the Year scored in single digits for the first time this season, shooting a season-worst 2-for-12 and scoring six points in Auburn Hills, Mich. He came back with 18 points against VCU but committed a season-high seven turnovers. That number stood out even more because Burke is fourth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.11).
ABOUT KANSAS (31-5): The Jayhawks have their own budding superstar in freshman guard Ben McLemore, but he’s also struggling lately. He missed all nine field-goal attempts against North Carolina and scored a season-low two points. He nearly had as many turnovers (four) as field-goal attempts (five) against Western Kentucky and hasn’t reached his 15.8 scoring average in the last four games dating to the Big 12 tournament semifinals. McLemore is capable of going on scoring sprees, having notched 30 or more points three times this season.
TIP-INS: Kansas is 29-9 all-time as a No. 1 seed in the tournament, but 3-4 against the No. 4 seed ... Withey averages 16.5 points, 11 rebounds and 3.9 blocks, which ranks second in the nation .... The winner is guaranteed to play a Florida-based team for the first time this season, facing third-seeded Florida or 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the Elite Eight.
Oregon vs. Louisville
INDIANAPOLIS — As impressive as Oregon was in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the 12th-seeded Ducks will need to be even better when they face No. 1 seed Louisville in the Midwest Region semifinal Today in Indianapolis. Oregon advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007 by defeating No. 5 seed Oklahoma State and No. 4 Saint Louis last weekend in San Jose, but the Ducks committed a total of 36 turnovers in the wins.
While the Ducks were able to overcome their miscues in the first two rounds, Louisville might not be so forgiving. The Cardinals, who routed 16th-seeded North Carolina A&T and No. 8 Colorado State, use a tenacious defense to force an average of 19 turnovers. Louisville is peaking at the right time with 12 straight wins, including a dominant 78-61 victory over Syracuse in the Big East tournament title game March 16.
ABOUT LOUISVILLE (31-5): The Cardinals are second in the nation in turnover margin (plus-6.3) and steals (11), and they’re facing an Oregon team that led the Pac-12 with 14.2 turnovers per game. Coach Rick Pitino compared Oregon’s up-tempo offense to Missouri, which lost 84-61 to the Cardinals on Nov. 23. The Cardinals’ backcourt of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva ranks among the best in the country, and Smith averaged 25 points and five steals in two games last weekend. Center Gorgui Dieng could play a key role in neutralizing Oregon senior forward Arsalan Kazemi.
ABOUT OREGON (28-8): The Ducks have won five straight, including a win over UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament title game. If they can limit their turnovers, the Ducks have the firepower to make things interesting. Kazemi is averaging 16.5 rebounds in the tournament, and Oregon dominated the boards in its first two tournament games. Freshman guard Damyean Dotson averaged 20 points last weekend as the Ducks made 16-of-33 shots from 3-point range. The Ducks feature a balanced offense, with six players averaging at least eight points.
TIP-INS: Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only one No. 12 seed — Missouri in 2002 — has advanced to the Elite Eight ... Pitino is 44-16 in the NCAA Tournament ... The winner advances to the Elite Eight on Sunday against second-seeded Duke or No. 3 Michigan State.