No. 1 Florida gets over the hump, but there’s a hunger for more

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Reaching the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament is an achievement that’s to be commended. Given the nature of one-and-done tournaments, numerous teams with designs on winning a national title have fallen short of that accomplishment much less get to the Final Four. Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators had reached the Elite Eight four years in a row entering Saturday’s game against No. 11 Dayton, only to see their first three experiences end in heartbreak.

Faced with an opponent that while feisty, many expected them to beat, Florida had some external pressure to deal with. But that doesn’t compare to the internal hopes and expectations they placed on themselves, with a talented senior class looking to leave its mark by helping Donovan win his third national title.

And one of those seniors, point guard Scottie Wilbekin, has been the player asked to lead the way after what was a tumultuous offseason. Suspended from the program for the second time in his career, there were questions as to whether or not Wilbekin would be able to do enough off the court to ensure that his coach would entrust him with the task of leading the Gators on the court.

RELATED: No. 1 Florida defeats No. 11 Dayton 

Wilbekin was able to do that but to his credit he didn’t stop there, joining his teammates in leading the program to a 36-2 record and their first Final Four in seven years. The Gators were able to get over the hump due in part to the ability of its point guard to get over his own personal “hump” that placed his Florida career in jeopardy.

“Some of the issues that happened during the summer was part of what brought us together as a team,” Wilbekin said Friday. “Just throughout the year, the type of games that we’ve been in and the grind of practice, it’s just really a combination of all those things bringing us together to the team that we are today.

“It’s a joy now to play with these guys and just to spend time with them.”

From a statistical standpoint Wilbekin accounted for 23 points, three assists and three steals in Florida’s 62-52 win over Dayton, but he also played a critical role in the defending of Jordan Sibert. After scoring 18 points against No. 10 Stanford Sibert failed to score on Saturday, and Wilbekin’s effort certainly had something to do with that. He’s been one of the best point guards in the country all season long, and Wilbekin’s growth in all aspects of his game is one reason why Florida’s headed to Texas.

MORE: No. 11 Dayton in a good spot heading into next season

However he wasn’t alone, with fellow seniors Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young also having key roles. And from a growth standpoint, not many players in college basketball have come as far as Prather. After averaging 6.2 points per game as a junior Prather raised his production to 13.8 points per game this season, turning into the offensive threat few envisioned him becoming back in October.

Add in the burly Young and an energetic forward in Yeguete whose impact can’t be measured solely by the box score, and Florida had a capable cast of leaders who knew the pain that comes with falling short of their goal. And that was a motivation factor for the Gators, who are now headed to the Final Four.

Yet after getting over the hump there’s also the overwhelming feeling that this group is capable of more, as in winning two more games and delivering to their coach his third national title.

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Terance Mann scored 18 points and No. 9-seed Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night.

The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

Kansas State on to Elite Eight after beating Kentucky

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The South Region has officially gone bananas.

Ninth-seeded Kansas State defeated No. 5 Kentucky, 61-58, on Thursday to set up a showdown with 11th-seeded Loyola on Saturday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Nine vs. 11. Just like we all expected.

Kansas State got a clutch layup from Barry Brown in the last minute, and then held Kentucky without a basket to hold on to the lead and its spot in the Elite Eight.

Kansas State had three players foul out and were without Dean Wade (foot) for the entire second half, but got 22 points from Xavier Sneed and 13 from Brown. KSU shot just 35.5 percent from the field but were aided by 15 Kentucky turnovers.

PJ Washington scored 18 points lead Kentucky.

Sister Jean: “I don’t care that you broke my bracket.”


As Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Clayton Custer came off the floor after Loyola earned its spot in the Elite Eight after beating Nevada, he had to make a quick apology.

He had to tell the Ramblers’ star fan Sister Jean he was sorry. She, of course, had picked Loyola’s Cinderella run to end in the Sweet 16 in her bracket before the start of the tournament.

The apology was quickly accepted.

“I said I don’t care that you broke my bracket,” Sister Jean said. “I’m ready for the next one.

“For a nice little school like ours, we are just so proud of them.”

Michigan rolls past Texas A&M into Elite Eight

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Historically known as a team that lived and died with the three-ball, No. 3-seed Michigan had spent the first weekend of the NCAA tournament proving history wrong.

In an ugly game in their opener against Montana, the Wolverines shot 5-for-16 from three while turning the ball over 14 times and managing a measly 61 points. Against Houston in the second round, Michigan shot 8-for-30 from beyond the arc, with one of those threes coming courtesy of Jordan Poole at the buzzer, sending the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win.

Put another way, Michigan looked the part of the defensive grinder that they turned into this season.

Against No. 7-seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, however, the Wolverines turned into the Golden State Warriors.

Michigan bested the number of three that they had made in the tournament to date, hitting 14-of-24 bombs while shooting 62 percent from the floor in a 99-72 win over an Aggies team that had finally, for the first time since November, looked the part of the SEC title contender that they have the talent to be.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 24 points, seven assists and five boards for Michigan. Mo Wagner chipped in with 21 points — 14 of which came in the first 15 minutes of the game — while Zavier Simpson added 11 points, five boards, five assists and five steals. Charles Matthews had 18 points. Duncan Robinson busted out of his slump with 10 points, including a couple of threes and a dunk to boot.

Put another way, the Wolverines were firing on all cylinders.

And that should terrify everyone on the left side of the bracket.

Entering this weekend’s games, Michigan was the best defensive team left in the tournament. They ranked third-nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and that’s not a fluke or a flaw within KenPom’s formula. The Wolverines can absolutely grind teams down defensively. They are so much more athletic on the perimeter than they have been in past seasons, and with Simpson playing as the point man for them on that end of the floor, they’ve simply overmatched everyone that has gotten in their path on that end of the floor.

That’s why they were able to win two games in the first weekend of the tournament despite scoring a total of just 125 points.

At some point, you knew they were going to find a way to be better on the offensive end, and the Aggies were the team they needed to see.

Texas A&M’s strength in their front line. Tyler Davis, Robert Williams, D.J. Hogg. They have so much size along that front line that it can overpower just about anyone this side of Duke. But what those big, burly dudes bring in the paint they lack on the perimeter, and Michigan was able to spread them out and beat them down the floor in transition. It didn’t help matters that the Aggies struggled with the idea of passing the ball to the guys in maroon instead of the guys in yellow during the first half, and the end result was a Michigan team that found their confidence.

At one point, they were 9-for-12 from three. They made 10 of their 14 threes in the first half. The score at one point was 52-23. It was a three-point avalanche of Villanovian proportions.

And here’s the kicker: The Aggies actually did manhandle Michigan inside. Tyler Davis and Robert Williams combined for 36 points on 17-for-25 shooting.

It didn’t matter.

Michigan will advance to face the winner of No. 4-seed Gonzaga and No. 9-seed Florida State tonight, and regardless of who they end up getting in the Elite 8, they will be taking on a team that is much, much, much better suited to matching up with Michigan’s spread attack.

But Michigan has their confidence back.

I don’t expect that we’ll be seeing them shoot 28 percent from three on Saturday.

And that defense?

It’s not going anywhere.

And the Wolverines won’t have to face a team seeded higher than them until the national title game.

This run may not be close to over yet.