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#2 Florida Gators (29-7) vs. #8 Butler Bulldogs (26-9)
Betting Line: Florida -3 o/u 131
The second-seeded Florida Gators (29-7) were able to knock out Jimmer Fredette and #3 BYU 83-74 in overtime on Thursday in the Sweet 16, but they will have an even peskier opponent to deal with on Saturday in the Southeast Regional Final of the NCAA tournament when they face the eighth-seeded Butler Bulldogs (26-9) at the New Orleans Arena. The Gators (-3) had some flashbacks to last year's Big Dance when Fredette beat them in the first round with a game-high 37 points before exacting some revenge and now hope to prevent Butler's return to the Final Four in this Elite Eight matchup.
Florida head coach Billy Donovan had a perfect game plan early on against Fredette, who missed his first six shots from the field and ended up making just 11 of 29 for a game-high 32 points. He accounted for nearly 41 percent of the total shots for the Cougars, who only made 35 percent as a team. While the BYU senior certainly made some big shots during the game like he has over his entire career, Donovan was able to use the size and depth of the Gators to tire him out.
The Bulldogs will definitely present a different challenge for Florida, although not unlike what Donovan has seen before. The Gators defeated a similar Mid-Major in the 2006 Final Four en route to the first of two consecutive national championships. George Mason was the opponent at that time, and Donovan made sure his players did not underestimate the Patriots in a 73-58 win.
Butler have won 12 straight games heading into the Elite Eight, which is half as many as they had this time last year when they made it all the way to the national championship game against Duke. While the Bulldogs lost the title game 61-59 to the Blue Devils, they have continued to amaze the country with their flair for the dramatic in this year's NCAA tournament. They have been underdogs in all three of their games so far, winning the first two in the final seconds before holding off Wisconsin 61-54 on Thursday in the Sweet 16.
The Badgers rallied back late in the game behind a 22-6 run that pulled them within 53-49 with 1:39 remaining after trailing by as many as 20 points. They had missed 17 straight shots to start the second half and did not score until there was 14:03 left in the game. Butler held Wisconsin to 30 percent shooting from the field and was led by Matt Howard's 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Howard has been a crucial player for the Bulldogs this year, beating #8 George Mason in the second round with a game-winning shot and then making the game-winning free throws in a major third-round upset of #1 Pittsburgh as 8-point dogs. He will have a much tougher time against Florida's frontcourt, which includes 6-foot-8 Alex Tyus and 6-10 Chandler Parsons.
Seniors Tyus and Parsons combined for 35 points, 26 rebounds and nine assists against the Cougars. They will now try to stop a Butler team that has won eight of its last nine games in the NCAA tournament. The Gators are 8-1-1 against the spread in their last 10 games overall, and they have seen the OVER go 10-1 in their last 11 overall along with their past 11 in the Big Dance. The Bulldogs have covered five in a row, and the UNDER is 7-2 in their last nine overall and 7-1 in their past eight tourney games.
Certainly any team that makes it thus far can win. All underdogs at this point, are "live dogs". That being said, our model has an 8 point margin favoring Florida here and that's the way we are going to go.
Predicted Score Florida 70 Butler 62
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