Florida, set your upset alerts to code red, because the Spartans of Norfolk State are ready for battle.
America's favorite No. 15 seed (sorry, Lehigh) is riding a title wave of momentum into the Round of 32. The MEAC champs stunned No. 2 Missouri on Friday, shattering brackets all over the country with one inspired performance.
Any doubts about their competitiveness and skill level were dismissed immediately as they went toe-to-toe with a Final Four-caliber team. The two teams traded blows all game long before Norfolk State delivered the knockout in the waning seconds.
Now, the Spartans are ready to take down the Gators in Omaha.
Of course, it certainly won't be easy. Florida, the seventh seed in the West region, has a potent offense fueled by exceptional talent in the backcourt. In the Round of 64, they made a scrappy Virginia team look like a bunch of high school freshmen.
So why am I picking Norfolk State to continue their magical run? Just scroll down and find out.
5. Ball Security
The Spartans proved on Friday that they can handle pressure on the perimeter.
Missouri's in-your-face defense flustered teams all year long, but the guards of Norfolk State were unfazed. Pendarvis Williams, Rodney McCauley and Chris McEachin protected the ball beautifully, committing just three combined turnovers in the game.
If they can handle the defensive intensity of Bradley Beal, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, the Spartans will advance to the Sweet 16.
4. Florida's Reliance on Threes
Like Missouri, the guard-centric Gators live and die with the three ball. They managed to survive a 4-for-23 effort from downtown against Virginia, but they won't have the same luck against the Spartans.
In the Round of 64, they made up for their awful outside shooting by hitting 22-of-27 shots in the paint. But with Norfolk State's solid interior defense, Florida will have a much tougher time scoring inside.
I'm sure the Gators will hit more than four three-pointers today, but if the Spartans can hold them to eight or nine buckets from deep, they'll be in prime position to notch the win.
3. Multiple Scorers
While many mid-majors are reliant on one great scorer, the Spartans have multiple guys who can explode on a given night.
Kyle O'Quinn, Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin all average at least 12 points per game. Against Missouri, the Spartan's Big Three took their play to another level, combining for 66 points on 24-of-39 shooting.
With their size and skill sets, the three should cause major problems for Florida's defense. O'Quinn is dominant inside, while Williams and McEachin can rain threes like it ain't no thang.
Look for at least two of them to drop 20-plus points today.
2. No Pressure
As they showed against Missouri, the Spartans are having fun on the court. They're enjoying their underdog role, playing a loose and confident style.
Yes, they're here to take care of business. But they also realize that virtually no one expected them to be contending for a Sweet 16 spot. Look for them to come out calm and collected.
On the flip-side, Florida is now dealing with some unexpected pressure. Instead of playing the underdog role themselves, they now have some undesirable historical implications over their heads.
Nobody wants to be the first team to let a 15 seed advance to the Sweet 16. If the game is close in the final minutes, you can bet that thought will be clouding the minds of the Gators.
1. Kyle O'Quinn
Although he was relatively unknown before the tournament, the MEAC is very familiar with O'Quinn's ability.
The charismatic big man has been dominant this year, averaging 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He's already posted 20 double-doubles in his season, and against Florida's thin front line, don't be surprised if he adds another today.
Against Missouri, O'Quinn showed off his flair for the dramatic. He dropped 26 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, made a few clutch hustle plays and gave one of the best post-game interviews in recent memory.
I'm expecting him to add to his resume today by leading the Spartans to their first Sweet 16 appearance in school history.
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