Bar none, the most intriguing Elite Eight matchup pits apprentice Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators against his mentor Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals.
Not only is Donovan part of Pitino's vaunted coaching tree (as an assistant at Kentucky), but he also played for Pitino during his college days at Providence.
The two shared an incredibly close connection instantly, and continue to have an intense relationship. Donovan even used to babysit Pitino's son Richard, who is currently an assistant coach for Louisville.
Suffice it to say, this game won't be shot on subplots.
In terms of actual gameplay, it should be a fabulous matchup.
The No. 4 seed Louisville has had an impressive run in making it to the Elite Eight. They disposed of Davidson, New Mexico and top-seeded Michigan State en route to today's contest.
For Florida, they've been equally as impressive. They defeated Virginia handily in the opening round before blowing out Norfolk State and taking down Marquette.
There's no secret that the strength of Florida's team resides with their guard play. For them to be effective, the Gators need to be knocking down their three-point shots.
Freshman Bradley Beal has been very good for the Gators in the tournament, and is coming off of a stellar game against Marquette in which he had 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks.
He has to be aggressive from the get-go, which means attacking the rim as opposed to floating on the perimeter. Additionally, both Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker need to be assertive in penetrating the lane.
Against Louisville and their zone, ball movement needs to be crisp and the Gators need to be cognizant of the constant pressure that Pitino's squad will be applying throughout the game.
The Cardinals have been absolutely outstanding on the defensive end. Currently, Louisville is No. 1 in the nation in defensive efficiency.
The defensive effort against No. 1 Michigan State was truly stifling. Louisville disrupted any offense the Spartans threw at them, holding MSU to 22.2 percent shooting—for the entire game.
Center Gorgui Dieng has been a revelation in the paint for the Cardinals. His freakishly long wingspan has been a true neutralizer for any opposing guard driving the lane.
He had seven blocked shots against Michigan State, and was instrumental in altering many others. Against Florida and their myriad of good guards, his play in the paint will be key.
The Gators don't have a strong post presence per se (Erik Murphy is more perimeter oriented and Patric Young is still very raw), but guards Walker and Beal will drive the lane.
Louisville's unorthodox press has created mass amounts of not only turnovers, but havoc as well. Even if they can't force a turnover, it takes the opposing team out of their offensive rhythm and makes them start their set much later than they'd like.
The actual achievement of forcing turnovers makes the Cardinals' offense potent. Guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith thrive on transition. Many of these opportunities stem from high pressure and forcing steals.
If Florida is to win this game, it's imperative that they take care of the ball.
Offensively, Louisville will look to get forward Chane Behanan going. The talented freshman is undersized in the post (6'6"), but he utilizes his bulk well and has an array of effective post moves around the basket.
In addition, leading scorer Kyle Kuric (12.9 points a game) will look to be aggressive from the start of the contest. Not only can the swingman stroke it from deep, but he's also adept at attacking the lane.
The biggest two keys for Florida will be holding onto the ball and hitting their three-point shots.
Louisville will undoubtedly be the best defensive team they've faced all season. The rampant high-pressure will force the Gators into uncomfortable situations. They'll have to be resilient and not turn the ball over.
The Cardinals will look to get the trio of Behanan, Siva and Kuric going. Siva is a nightmare in the open court, and has unparalleled quickness with anyone out on the floor today.
Two key stats: Florida has committed more turnovers (36) than they've forced (30).
Florida did lead the nation in three-point completions per contest with just under 10. However, in the tournament, Florida is only shooting 26.9 percent from three-point range (21-78).
The storyline of Donovan v. Pitino will obviously garner most of the attention heading into the game.
Will the pupil grab the pebble from the hand of the instructor?
In this case, no. The instructor still has the upper hand.
I look for Louisville to win a very close game—stamping their ticket to the Final Four in New Orleans.
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