For the Florida Gator basketball team, it's deja vu all over again. After three convincing victories in NCAA tournament play, the Gators once again find themselves in the Elite Eight.
Florida's third consecutive appearance in the Elite Eight is unmatched by any other college basketball program. However, unless the Gators come up with a victory over Michigan, it will be an impressive but meaningless streak that will likely be remembered more as another lost opportunity.
It's not only that the Gators have lost consecutive Elite Eight games, but rather how they lost. In the 2011 Elite Eight matchup with Butler, the Gators led by 11 points with nine minutes to play, only to lose in overtime.
In 2012, the Gators squandered a similar lead to Louisville, who stormed back from 11 points down with less than eight minutes to play to defeat Florida and advance to the Final Four.
Despite these losses, the Elite Eight experience should be helpful to the third-seeded Gators in their matchup with No. 4 seed Michigan. Florida is a veteran team that starts three seniors and two juniors, all of whom have been tournament-tested. Michigan starts three freshman, a junior and a sophomore. This is Michigan's first Elite Eight appearance since 1994.
Florida would also seem to have the edge with coach Billy Donovan, whose NCAA tournament record is a staggering 31-10.
The Gators have advanced to the Elite Eight with wins over the Nos. 14, 11, and 15 seeds. They've yet to be tested by a team of Michigan's caliber.
The Gators have also yet to prove they can win a close game. They have been plagued by inconsistent free-throw shooting and the lack of a clutch shooter, a la Michigan's Trey Burke, with the game on the line.
The strength of this year's Gator squad has been a stingy defense that will be tested by Michigan' s highly efficient offense.
In the end, look for the more experienced Gator team to be focused and determined not to let history repeat itself. Florida will advance to the Final Four.
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