Arlington, TX – The South Regional final of the 2013 NCAA Tournament is set for Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium, as the fourth- seeded Michigan Wolverines take on the third-seeded Florida Gators.
The winner advances to the Final Four in Atlanta to take on the champion of the East Region, either Syracuse or Marquette.
Michigan's tournament started off with a pair of relatively easy bouts in the second and third rounds, taking down South Dakota State (71-56) and VCU (78-53), before facing off against the South Region's No. 1 seed in Kansas in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. The Wolverines battled into overtime before coming away with an 87-85 upset victory, and they are 29-7 on the season, their best mark since the 1992-93 campaign, and they've advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1994.
Much like Michigan, Florida had an easy go of it in the opening rounds of the tournament, as the team dismissed 14th-seeded Northwestern State (79-47) and 11th-seeded Minnesota (78-64) by double-digits. The Gators had to tangle with the tournament's Cinderella story in 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, and while they were shaky early on, they eventually finished with a 62-50 win to improve to 29-7 on the year and advance to the regional finals for the third straight season, and for the fifth time in the last eight years.
After these the 1988 matchup between these two teams was vacated by the NCAA, there is just one official bout in the all-time series, with the Gators coming away with a 79-63 win in December of 1998.
The Wolverines trailed Kansas for much of Friday's contest, including by 11 points with under four minutes to play, but they pulled off an improbable 17-6 run down the stretch, capped by a Trey Burke's long 3-pointer with five seconds left in regulation to force overtime. In the extra session, Burke drilled another long-range bucket less than a minute in to give his team the lead for good. Burke was far from his best on the evening, shooting just 9- of-21 from the field, but he still finished with 23 points and 10 assists. Mitch McGray was spectacular in the paint with 25 points and 14 rebounds -- both career-highs. Glenn Robinson III chipped in with 13 points and eight boards, while Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway, Jr. added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Like it displayed against a stout Kansas squad, the Maize and Blue have been rock solid at the offensive end of the court all season long, scoring greater than 75 ppg, but they have also been strong on defense with just 63.1 ppg allowed. Burke is the team's unquestioned leader, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors by averaging 18.9 ppg with impressive percentages from the field (.469) and 3-point range (.386), while adding 6.8 apg and 1.6 spg to his impressive stat line. Hardaway, Jr. is an outstanding scorer in his own right with 14.8 ppg, Stauskas (11.3 ppg) has drained 73 3-pointers at a 42.9 percent clip, and Robinson III brings 11.1 ppg and 5.6 rpg to the table. McGary's season averages are rather modest (7.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), but he has stepped up in this tournament with 19.7 ppg and 12.3 rpg.
The Gators appeared in trouble in the Sweet 16 as they found themselves down 24-14 to upstart Florida Gulf Coast midway through the first half, but they got their act together and closed the period on a 16-0 run to take a four- point lead into the locker room at intermission. It was a lead they would never relinquish. Although they were outshot by the Eagles, .455 to .386, they won both the turnover (20-10) and rebounding (35-28) battles, and outscored FCGU at the foul line, 14-6. Mike Rosario led the way with 15 points, Patric Young had 13, and while Casey Prather chipped in 11 points off the bench.
Florida has a potent offensive attack, averaging 71.7 ppg on roughly 48 percent shooting from the field, but as it showed against FCGU, it has reached elite status thanks mostly to its suffocating defense, which yields a mere 53.7 ppg on 38 percent field goal efficiency -- those last two figures ranking in the top-five nationally. Instead of leaning on one superstar, the squad relies on a balanced effort from its starting five, as Murphy, Rosario, Kenny Boynton, Young and Wilbekin all net between 9.3 and 12.8 ppg, with Young (6.2 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and Wilbekin (4.9 apg, 1.4 spg) being named to the SEC's All- Defensive Team as well. The Gators rely heavily on the 3-pointer, draining more than eight treys per contest at nearly a 38 percent clip.