Final Four Predictions 2013: Projecting Midwest and South Region Winners
Half of the Final Four is set, as two teams have already punched their ticket to Atlanta.
The South and Midwest regions have yet to send a final participant to the Big Dance in Georgia, but Michigan, Florida, Louisville and Duke are all vying for the chance to represent their schools in the Final Four in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
The road to this moment for all four teams in their two regions has been long and winding, even though all it took was three wins to get to this moment. It certainly feels more like 30 than three, but so goes the tournament—the emotions of March Madness make things magnified by 10.
That being said, the emotions and heightened stakes for both Elite Eight matchups on Sunday might be too great to quantify. Based on each of these remaining four teams from the South and Midwest, here's a look at both Elite Eight games and which teams have the best chance to move on in your likely disheveled bracket.
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 3 Florida
When: Sunday, March 31, at 2:20 p.m. ET
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Betting Line: Florida -3 (via SportsBook)
If there was any doubt why Billy Donovan was a top NBA head-coaching candidate a few years back, Friday night's win over the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles reminded us all why Florida has been to the past three Elite Eights and won two national championships back-to-back under the long-time Gator coach.
Florida dispatched FGCU despite shooting only 38.6 percent from the field, a remarkable feat considering this game felt like a blowout from the end of the first half on. Florida's defense corralled Brett Comer and forced 20 FGCU turnovers, leading to the 12-point win and a spot in the Elite Eight.
John Beilein's team survived Kansas behind Trey Burke's incredible shot as time wound down in regulation, and then watched the young star pour it on again in the overtime period as Michigan outlasted the Jayhawks.
While both Florida and Michigan have overcome various stretches of poor play and inconsistency to reach the Elite Eight, only one can leave Dallas (ahem, Arlington) unscathed.
Michigan survived on Friday because of Burke's heroics, but don't discount the role that Mitch McGary has played as a starter in the tournament. He finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds on Friday, and his skill around the rim playing off Burke has made Michigan a different team in March.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are also lurking for the Wolverines.
Florida's balanced scoring attack worked wonders against Dunk City, but it was the defense that saved the Gators from a Sweet 16 letdown. The defense will have to carry Florida again against a scary Michigan team, although Florida's 71.9 points per game and 48.4 percent shooting per contest are no slouch for Michigan to stop.
Both of these teams match up well on both ends, but Michigan is hot and has an X-factor (McGary) that Florida will not be able to contend with off penetration and the offensive glass. I like the Wolverines to move on one more time.
Prediction: Michigan 75, Florida 70
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 2 Duke
When: Sunday, March 31, at 5:05 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Betting Line: Louisville -3.5 (via SportsBook)
Only Ohio State has averaged more points per game than Louisville so far in the tournament, and very few teams have the defensive pressure that the Cardinals have provided on opposing guards so far.
If there's a team that can prepare for Louisville's attack on both ends, it's Duke.
The Blue Devils beat Michigan State at its own game on Friday night, slowing the pace down and running their offense to great success. Tom Izzo had no answer for Seth Curry in the first half, and Rasheed Sulaimon's ability to penetrate and draw contact led to the Devils ending the game at the free-throw line.
Duke also limited freshman guard Gary Harris to six points on two-of-11 shooting.
A similar task will be in order against Louisville. Russ Smith is first in scoring average among remaining tournament players with 27 points per game, and he's allowed Peyton Siva to quietly rest up (just 19 minutes against Oregon) for the rest of the Big Dance.
Duke will also have to contend with the suddenly offensive-minded Gorgui Dieng, who scored in double-figures against the Ducks on Friday night and has missed just one shot from the field in three games. With the way Louisville is playing and the contributions it is getting from its entire roster, the Cardinals are going to be hard to beat.
The key will be three-point shooting, which was big for Louisville against Oregon. The Cardinals limited the Ducks to just five threes on 14 attempts, the latter number less than Curry had against Michigan State. I like the quick, tenacious defense of Rick Pitino's team to oust Mike Krzyzewski's team in an attempt to reach the Final Four yet again.
Prediction: Louisville 64, Duke 62
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