#4 Louisville Cardinals vs. #7 Florida Gators -1.5 — West Regional Final
First off, a HUGE hats-off to the Ohio Bobcats last night. No one gave them a chance at competing, least of all me (I think I’d like to retract the “you or I could play point guard tomorrow night and it wouldn’t matter’ comment. Um… oooops?) Ohio came within a few inches of a half-court heave from making perhaps the greatest shot in the history of the NCAA Tournament and notching what might have been one of its greatest upsets as well. Teams seeded #13 or higher are a combined 0-136 against #1 seeds. This game was mere inches from flipping the sports world upside down.
So, yeah, we missed that game pretty badly (actually, but the time OT ended, it was only two points from covering, but still, I count that one as a bad miss). But we did deliver well on Kentucky and North Carolina State, pulling the NCAA Tourney cumulative record to a healthy 14-9-1.
Today, let’s keep it rolling with two regional final picks.
Oddly, both games have the worse-seeded team as the favorite, albeit by a slim margin. Florida has been as impressive as any team in the tourney as their veteran guards and freshman stud Bradley Beal have finally seemed to harmonize. Add in the dangerous power of Patrick Young on the block and one of the better benches in the field, and you have a recipe for a team than can make a serious run at a national championship.
Louisville has a similar season arc of a team peaking at the right time. Enigmatic Peyton Siva is playing his best basketball at the right time, and it is no coincidence the Cardinals have taken off along with him. Florida has the quickness at the guard position in Boyton and Walker, but don’t be surprised to see the Gators rotate the much stronger Beal to Siva to get a little more physical presence on him. Siva was the Big East Tourney M.O.P, and has played similarly excellent in the NCAA Tournament. They are going to need him to again if they want to advance to the Final Four.
Florida has more firepower offensively; Louisville is the stronger defensive ballclub. So I’m going to stick with the old adage that “defense wins championships” and take Louisville to advance to New Orleans in a fantastic (I’m excited just to watch this one) basketball game. I think Kuric gives them a few big buckets, just as he did in the clutch against Michigan State. And I love the interior defensive presence of the best shot blocker in the country (yes, better than Anthony Davis! Gasp!), Gorgui Dieng. The 6’11’’ sophomore averages 3.2 blocks a game, and has been the most dominant defender in the NCAA Tournament.
The love and respect between mentor Rick Pitino and student Billy Donovan is well documented. However, the teacher is 6-0 against the pupil in their head-to-head coaching careers. Some of that is due to Pitino’s superior talent on the floor in many of those matchups, but I am sucker for staggering stats. It was the 9-0 (now 10-0) lifetime record in Sweet 16 matchups that led me to the Louisville over Michigan State upset correct pick. I am feeling pretty good that the 6-0 for Pitino is a nod in the right direction. Give me Louisville to advance to Coach Pitino’s seventh Final Four.
Free Pick: Louisville Cardinals +1.5