First of all, after Florida's win last night (paired with Duke's win, which I begrudgingly picked), my bracket is in the 96th percentile nationally.
Anyone who has been reading this blog for the last six years knows that, historically, my bracket is anywhere between mediocre and horrible. This is my best performance ever. It basically comes down to this: If Florida wins it all, I'm in great shape. If they lose Sunday to Michigan -- or in the Final Four or title game -- I'm going to plummet.
But I feel pretty good about my pick, and last night's game displayed why: Florida has the best defense in college hoops this year -- start with that, and you will always stay in games. They also have a Top 5 offense, nationally; what that means is that even if they have their worst offensive game of the season (as they did last night, because of nerves or FGCU's defense or whatever), it is enough to pair with the elite defense to scratch out a win.
In fact, I was more nervous about a black swan like Florida Gulf Coast than I am about Michigan or the Syracuse-Marquette winner or even Louisville.
In the end, the game was sort of close -- not close close, but nothing I was comfortable with under there was less than a minute remaining in the game. And the first five minutes had me freaking out. But the last 10 minutes of the half -- when Florida stifled FGCU's offense almost entirely (FGCU hurt themselves with turnovers, too) -- I felt like a non-existent offense might not kill them.
And so it's on to the Elite Eight -- for the third straight year -- and Michigan, a team that pulled off one of the greatest comebacks I have seen in the Tournament in years. Michigan's offense is as better than any in the tournament (again, Florida's is Top 5, so hardly a slouch), but Michigan's defense is mediocre; Florida should have a much better time against it than they did against FGCU.
In short: Florida has been through its tournament crucible; Michigan has never seen or played a defense as good as Florida's. The closest proximation -- Michigan State -- yielded a 1-point win in Ann Arbor and a 17-point loss in East Lansing, with Michigan averaging only 54.5 ppg in both, well below its season average. Against Wisconsin's Top 5 defense? Two losses for Michigan, and a 60.5 ppg average.
Against common opponents, don't be fooled by Michigan's 2-0 record against Kansas State and Arkansas, who combined to go 2-1 vs. Florida -- Michigan played K-State in Ann Arbor; Florida played the in Manhattan, Kansas. And Michigan also played Arkansas in Michigan (Arkansas was awful on the road and a completely different team in Fayetteville, where they beat Florida).
The point is that Florida is precisely the kind of team gives Michigan problems. It is unclear that Michigan is the kind of team that gives Florida problems.
Regardless, the stakes for Florida are much higher: In their third straight trip to the Elite Eight, it is break through or bust-- Final Four or failure.
As for the rest of the regionals, I'll take absurdly confident Wichita State over Ohio State (on my bracket, I had Gonzaga over Ohio State) and Syracuse over Marquette (I had Indiana over Marquette) today, then Louisville over Duke (which I had on my bracket) and Florida over Michigan (I had Florida over Kansas). Should be a great four games over the next two days. Enjoy it.