The NCAA tournament has been anything but predictable, and the stage is set for a pair of tremendous games as Elite Eight action heats up on Sunday.
No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Michigan have emerged from the early rounds of the South Region with a national title now in sight. Both squads are just three wins away from tournament glory, and a Final Four showdown with Syracuse awaits the winner of Sunday’s early matchup.
Late-game heroics propelled the Wolverines past No. 1 Kansas on Friday, punctuated by a sparkling second-half performance from star point guard Trey Burke. His last-second trey to force overtime gave Michigan the momentum it needed to upset the South Region favorite and keep its tournament hopes alive.
Like the Wolverines, Florida has gotten some big performances from several key players in the tournament. Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario and Patric Young have all been solid contributors in the Gators’ first three tournament tilts, and all three will have to chip in with strong outings against the Wolverines.
Let’s take a look at a few players who will have the biggest impact on Sunday with a Final Four appearance on the line.
Trey Burke, Michigan
Nothing exemplifies March Madness like a big shot from an even bigger star. Burke’s three-pointer against Kansas was the play of the tournament, providing the spark Michigan needed to upend the No. 1 seed in overtime.
The sophomore point guard rebounded from an atrocious start in the first half with a 23-point outpouring to close out the contest. Despite a bevy of deadly scorers, the Wolverines needed their brightest star to come up big in the Elite Eight, and he delivered.
Florida boasts the No. 2 scoring defense in the country, and Burke will have to come up huge again on Sunday if the Wolverines are to escape the Elite Eight with a victory.
Burke has been inconsistent at times in the tournament, but he also has the talent to play well in long stretches (as he did against Kansas). With Burke firing on all cylinders after a masterful Sweet 16 performance, expect him to come out swinging with another huge game on Sunday.
Production prediction: 22 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds
Mike Rosario, Florida
Senior guard Kenny Boynton was Florida’s best player during the regular season, but he hasn’t contributed much in the tournament. Averaging just 8.3 points and 1.3 assists through the first four rounds, the Gators have needed their other senior guard to come up big.
Rosario’s 25-point performance was the deciding factor in the Gators’ strong showing against Minnesota in the third round. The 6’3” sharpshooter knocked down six three-pointers on nine attempts and followed that up with a 15-point contribution against Florida Gulf Coast University in the Sweet 16.
Boynton will face another tough matchup against Burke in the Elite Eight, and Rosario will once again be expected to provide a lot of scoring in Florida’s backcourt. Fortunately for Rosario, Michigan is No. 105 in the nation in opponent three-point percentage, and he’ll get his share of looks from behind the arc.
Production prediction: 18 points, 4 assists, 5-of-8 from behind the arc
Erik Murphy, Florida
The X-factor in this contest will be the play of Florida’s exceptional frontcourt. Murphy and Young comprise an athletic duo that matches up well with an undersized Michigan lineup, which has relied on speed and quickness to out-finesse opponents in the tournament.
Murphy only tallied four points against Florida Gulf Coast, but his 16.5 points per game in Florida’s previous two contests shouldn’t go unnoticed. With the ability to both bang in the paint and stretch the floor, Murphy presents a difficult matchup for Michigan’s frontcourt.
All eyes will be on Burke and Rosario, but expect Murphy to be the deciding factor in a close Florida victory. He has the length, athleticism and shooting ability to create a lot of mismatches at the offensive end.
Production prediction: 17 points, 9 rebounds
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