Florida vs. Butler is a game that we've seen twice before on the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket: in 2000, Mike Miller's runner topped the Bulldogs in a first round classic, while in 2007, Butler gave Florida's Joakim Noah-led team its greatest scare en route to a second consecutive national title. Since that meeting, the Gators have struggled to even get to the NCAA Tournament, while Butler basketball enjoyed its greatest success under Brad Stevens, making it all the way to the 2010 NCAA Tournament final. That means this 2011 Elite Eight game may have the two coaches with the highest combined winning percentage in NCAA Tournament history: Billy Donovan is 25-8 for a .757 NCAA Tournament winning percentage, while Brad Stevens is 9-3 and holds a .750 winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament. We'll find out whether Florida or Butler advances to the Final Four from the Southeast Region at 4:20 p.m. this Saturday from New Orleans, according to the 2011 NCAA Tournament schedule, and Gus Johnson, Len Elmore, and Reggie Miller will have the call on CBS.
Florida has played three good games in this NCAA Tournament, but only their first win, a trampling of UC Santa Barbara, counts as complete: against UCLA, Florida's big men nearly evaporated, while the Gators' offense went cold after a blazing start against BYU and would not recover until overtime. Those flaws didn't prevent the Gators from getting wins, but they certainly made those games closer than they may have needed to be: Florida's been the best team in the Southeast Region when its offense has been clicking, and if Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Chandler Parsons can hit threes, this team is very, very difficult to stop. And if Alex Tyus can repeat his Sweet 16 performance (19 points, 17 rebounds) against Butler, or at least approximate it along with Vernon Macklin, Florida is likely to run its 4-0 record in Elite Eight games to 5-0.
Butler, though, keeps giving teams fits. Their offense lifted the Bulldogs against Pitt, while their defense and rebounding produced wins against Old Dominion and Wisconsin — in games that saw Butler's offense commit double-digit turnovers and shoot under 50% from the field. Florida probably has as much talent up and down its roster as any team Butler's seen this season, but whether Butler permits that talent to make plays is another story. Shelvin Mack could have a field day if he's guarded by the much shorter Walker, but it's likely that Mack draws Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin while lightly-used Ronald Nored and fleet-footed Shawn Vanzant get Walker. Butler's bigger concern: if Howard is down low and Andrew Smith is hobbled by an ankle injury sustained against Wisconsin, will the Bulldogs have answer for Parsons? Butler has a spotless Elite Eight record, too — 1-0! — but the perpetual underdog Bulldogs have another tall task before them.
Star Watch: Parsons hasn't been Florida's flashiest scorer in the Gators' first three games, but he's been UF's do-everything player as always. Since 1996-97, four players have averaged 10 points, six rebounds, and six assists over at least four NCAA Tournament games: Marquette's Dwyane Wade, Memphis' Derrick Rose, Ohio State's Evan Turner, and Parsons.
Prediction: Can Butler get over the hump against their Tournament bogeyman? Will Florida's offense be able to survive Butler's disciplined defense? If Smith's ankle tweak impacts this game at all, Butler's going to struggle to cover all of Florida's front line; here's saying it does, just slightly, and the Gators advance to the Final Four with a 65-61 victory.
More Reading: SB Nation's Florida blog Alligator Army has plenty more on the Gators' Elite Eight run, while SB Nation Indiana is all over Butler's NCAA Tournament success. And check out the SB Nation NCAA Tournament hub for more on the 2011 NCAA Tournament.