After almost a week of sitting and waiting and answering questions, Florida Gators senior guard Kenny Boynton frowned and scratched his head.
“We are tired of hearing about them,” he said. “We're ready to play.”
Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament can become an old story fast. Especially when media outlets looking for a cheap story that gets readers all pile into a bracket to watch the freak show. That's what Florida (28-7) is experiencing for tonight's 10:07 game vs. Florida Gulf Coast (26-10) in the South Region semifinals.
The Eagles have advanced farther than any 15 seed in tourney history. The Gators are chasing their third straight Elite 8 berth.
“Pressure on Goliath!” declared ESPN's Dick Vitale.
Florida is fueled by two straight years of falling just short of a Final Four. FGCU is being fueled by all the love.
“It's been overwhelming,” said Eagles coach Andy Enfield.
FGCU point guard Brett Comer: “I feel like, you know, honestly deep down they might not be taking us seriously.”
It's the first time a trio of double-digit seeds are in the Sweet 16, prompting some to wonder if the NCAA selection committee got it all wrong.
“The only team that was really seeded wrong was Oregon, which was off by at least four lines,” says bracketologist Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com. “Otherwise you get into a fair amount of hair splitting. You can't just seeding by what happens in the tournament because teams don't earn seeds by what they do in the tournament. Upsets have been happening all year. Why should the tournament be any different?”
It's also the first time that three teams from the Sunshine State were in the Sweet 16 at the same time. There could be an all-Sunshine pairing in one half of the Final Four if the Gators-Eagles winner claims the South and Miami wins the East Region. But first thing's first. Can FGCU pull off a huge upset, yet again?
“If you can beat Georgetown (78-68), if you can beat San Diego State (81-71), they didn't win with any miracle shot, then you can beat anyone,” Vitale said. “My gut feeling is though that the defense of Florida will be a difference maker. I think that Florida will ultimately be able to end the dream. But that doesn't take away with the incredible job they've done, they play the game with passion, feeling, great, great job and jubilation. Let's face it, all the pressure is on the Gators.”
The Gators have been one of the best defensive teams in the nation all season and tonight is another challenge. FGCU will run with Florida and over 18 percent of its points have come off dunks in the NCAA tourney.
CBS analyst Seth Davis said this is Donovan's best defensive team since the national title years, the Gators rank No. 2 nationally in scoring defense (53.8).
“I think we've got to limit them in transition,” said UF forward Will Yeguete. “We can't turn the ball over and you have to take good shots.”
There's also the Cowboys Stadium factor, the arena is massive. Gators guard Mike Frazier says: “The rim is the same height and the court is the same size.”
Boynton adds a lot of players say it's a tough place to shoot in with little background. As for the Cinderella label, Donovan's not buying.
“I think that the country may give a team a label, but we never do that,” said UF coach Billy Donovan of this year's Cinderella. “We look at a team on film and what they do and the things that we have to do, so we've got to prepare for this game like we would any other game. This is a really good team that has played exceptionally well that is maybe playing as well as anyone in the country right now. The seeding and all that stuff, it doesn't mean anything. When the ball goes up in the air, you're playing against each other.
“This is a basketball game that we're going to have to play well in order to move on and advance. This is a team that beat Miami, beat Georgetown, they knocked off San Diego State. They went into their (Atlantic Sun) conference championship, basically on the road and beat Mercer on their home court. You don't do those things unless you are really good.”
But many skeptics believe the dream season probably ends tonight. A major reason? How long can you stay so high.
“Florida Gulf Coast came home from Philadelphia (after advancing to the Sweet 16) and they had a pep rally and a parade,” Davis said. “Florida got home and said, 'OK, the tournament begins now.”'
The Eagles actually did Florida a favor by upsetting Georgetown, which would have been a bad matchup for the Gators. But Davis also thinks UF's season likely ends in Dallas, even if it gets past FGCU.
“If they win and play either Kansas or Michigan and Kansas and Michigan are playing as well as they can, (Florida) will lose,” Davis said.
But he also points out, there's no way to predict if that happens and if either doesn't play its best, then the Gators could knock them off. That's way down the road, however. Donovan wouldn't dream to think about a regional title game. He feels Florida Gulf Coast is a rough challenge.
“They're a great finishing team on the fast break,” he said. “They have frontcourt players who are really active and athletic, who can block shots. They can score the basketball really from five different positions.
“Defensively they change defenses, they play match-up zone, they play man to man, they give you some three-quarter court press. All of things I think they do at a very, very high level.”
Comer is also wrong – Florida is very concerned about him.
“He has very, very good vision of the floor,” said Gators guard Mike Rosario. “He knows how to get other guys shots.”
Three keys to the Gators? Mike Rosario had 25 points in the win Sunday against Minnesota to advance.
“If Mike Rosario plays that way, they're going to Atlanta,” Davis predicted.
Patric Young is up and down inside. His rebounding is vital. Overall, the Florida defense has to top the Eagles' fast break offense.
How does FGCU win? Easy. Just get transition baskets, get the crowd in the game and keep it their. Kansas meets Michigan in the first regional semifinal. It's almost certain many of those fans will stay and cheer on Cinderella. If Florida Gulf Coast is leading at halftime, the roar could be deafening in the second 20 minutes and athletes almost always respond to emotion.
But then, Florida played Cinderella in the Final Four in 2006 and crushed George Mason the way to a national title.
“Those are all things that we have no control over,” Donovan said. “We have control over the stuff we have to do in the game and we have to be prepared to play against a really good team.”
And let's be realistic, says Vitale.
“If you were to ask Billy Donovan before the tournament started that you could play Florida Gulf Coast and the right to go to the Elite 8 I think he would have welcomed the challenge,” Vitale said.