9:57 pm ET, TBS
There are no two ways about it: Florida is the villain tonight. Gator fans obviously will be rooting for their team, and maybe some SEC partisans will be on their side as well. The rest of the nation will not be. It will be rooting not just for Cinderella, but for a fun team that repudiates the increasingly employed slow tempo tactics of college basketball in favor of a running and dunking style.
Make no mistake: this would be FGCU's biggest upset yet. It beat Miami in the regular season, but that school is hardly a power and was a bit of a surprise itself. It beat Georgetown in the first round, but that made four years in a row now that the Hoyas have fallen to a double digit seed. Georgetown is well known for disappointing now.
With a little more consistency, Florida easily could have been a 1-seed. It's the No. 1 team according to Ken Pomeroy's system. Not only that, but it's the king of college basketball in the state. This isn't like football where Florida has a Big Three. It just has a Big One, and FGCU taking it down in the tournament would be a huge statement about how far the young program has already come.
The trouble for the upstart Eagles is that nothing points to them being able to win tonight. Here are eight reasons why Florida will get to the Elite Eight. Here are some more.
The lowest-rated team Florida has lost to this year in the KenPom standings is No. 73 Tennessee; FGCU is No. 92 and entered the tournament as No. 126. The Gators would have to set a new low to lose tonight, whereas Georgetown had lost to No. 144 South Florida and San Diego State had lost to No. 123 Wyoming. Both of those victims of the Eagles had already shown an ability to lose to a team of FGCU's caliber, while UF hasn't. Pomeroy's log5 formula gives the Gators a 95% chance at winning, by far the best of any team in this round. Florida is easily the most complete team the Eagles will have faced. This last reason was one of the linked-to eight, but it bears repeating: FGCU has never had to deal with the distractions it's had this week, while this veteran Florida team is the epitome of "they've been here before".
The key for Florida is not to get caught up in everything and just play its game. It actually plays at one of the slowest paces in the country, a surprising stat for a team with so many blowouts on its resume. In the first round against Northwestern State, they allowed the Demons to crank the tempo up to their preferred frenetic level. While that was going on, they gave Florida some real problems. In the second half, the Gators controlled the pace and they pulled away with ease.
FGCU is not a bad team, but it's not a good one either. It can be good at times, but the stats give them a poor chance at winning for a reason. Look for Patric Young and Erik Murphy to use their combination of size and athleticism to lead Florida on both sides of the floor, while Will Yeguete will play a big role as a defensive stopper. Dunk City might connect on a lob or two here or there, but at the end of the game, the villains will be the ones left standing.
The pick: Florida 77, FGCU 59