Preview: Florida Gulf Coast vs. Florida
The NCAA could not have picked a more appropriate venue than Cowboys Stadium to host the South Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The home of America's team will become the domain for America's newest darlings when upstart Florida Gulf Coast plays in-state powerhouse Florida on Friday in Arlington, Tex. The Eagles became the first No. 15 seed in NCAA history to reach the Sweet 16 by blitzing No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State.
While Florida Gulf Coast has captivated the nation, the third-seeded Gators are flying under the radar with dominant wins over Northwestern State and Minnesota to reach the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season. Florida looked like the best team in the country earlier in the season, rolling off 10 straight wins with ease before struggling down the stretch. The Gators are no strangers to the NCAA's biggest stage, having won national championships in 2006 and 2007.
TV: 9:57 p.m. ET, TBS.
ABOUT FLORIDA GULF COAST (26-10): The Eagles have appeared unflappable through two games, riding the wondrous skills of sophomore point guard Brett Comer, the all-around play of backourt mate Sherwood Brown - the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year - and some high-flying antics that have earned them the moniker "Dunk City." Bernard Thompson scored 23 points in both tournament wins as Florida Gulf Coast continues to bear little resemblance to the team that lost to Lipscomb (twice), East Tennessee State, Stetson and Maine. "They play with a swagger, and they have a right to do that," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said.
ABOUT FLORIDA (28-7): The Gators are well equipped to match up against the Eagles. Florida has a deep, experience lineup that features five players averaging between 12.8 and 9.2 points. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin is joined in the backcourt by 2,000-point scorer Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario, who had a career-best 25 points against Minnesota. Forward Erik Murphy provides punch inside, averaging 16.5 points and shooting 72.2 percent in the tournament. Florida thrives on defense, having held 24 opponents under 60 points and limiting 13 to fewer than 50. Finally, coach Billy Donovan knows a little about the dangers of a Cinderella squad. He played point guard and led Providence to the Final Four in 1987.
1. Florida, one of four programs to reach the Sweet 16 the past three seasons, is 5-1 in regional semifinals under Donovan.
2. Florida Gulf Coast joined the Atlantic Sun in 2007, and this season marked only its second year of eligibility for Division I postseason play.
3. Donovan is one of only four men (Dean Smith, Joe B. Hall and Bobby Knight) to appear in a Final Four as a player and win an NCAA title as a coach.
PREDICTION: Florida 67, Florida Gulf Coast 61