Wrapping up our look at the NCAA Tournament at the Sweet 16 stage, we look at the Midwest Regional, a place where three upstarts seek to slay the team with the crown.
To be sure, there were times last week where Florida looked downright bored. Trying to become the first team to defend its national championship since Duke in 1991-92 (and just the second since the John Wooden-UCLA dynasty), the Gators took the scenic route in New Orleans, showing up when it had to.
This meant pulling far away in the second half against Jackson State. And against a Purdue team that showed its tournament worth by dismissing Arizona, Florida trailed deep in the second half before the inside presence of Al Horford and Joakim Noah assured a trip to St. Louis.
Going into the Dance, many figured that Maryland could give the Gators a real fight. But the Terrapins only got halfway there, fighting through a first-round scare with Davidson in Buffalo before confronting a battle-tested group from Butler that used 3-pointers to ward off Old Dominion.
Dictating the tempo, and getting the big shots (again) from A.J. Graves, the Bulldogs pulled well out in front of Maryland, then held on at the end. Terp fans will long quibble about the "offensive foul" called on D.J. Strawberry in the final minute, but how often has that kind of call gone against a power team?
Having beaten so many heavyweights already, Butler will not be afraid of Florida, and will keep things nice and slow on Friday night. But the Gator Nation need not worry -- at some point, the switch will get flipped again, and Florida will get through this not-so-insignificant test.
In a tournament where chalk has ruled, UNLV is the lowest seed left. It was criminal in the first place to make the Mountain West champions a no. 7 seed -- that's what lack of big-time TV exposure will do. Or did NCAA committee members bring their decades-old grudge against Tark the Shark into the room?