If there were any doubts that this was a down year for SEC basketball teams, Michigan removed all doubts in the South Regional Finals on Easter Sunday.
The Big Ten team was seeded fifth in the Big Ten Tournament, yet sent SEC regular season champion Florida packing with a wire-to-wire 79-59 win to make it to the seventh Final Four in Michigan history.
Missouri had been eliminated by Colorado State in its first game. The SEC Tournament champion, Ole Miss, beat Big Ten opponent Wisconsin, but fell prey to a hot La Salle team in the second round.
The Gators were clearly the SEC's best bet to go deep in the tournament, but Coach Billy Donovan's team was not up to the test against the 4-seed Wolverines. At one point in the game Michigan outscored the Gators, 41-17. Florida found itself in a 13-0 hole to start the game and never recovered.
It wasn't a matter of how. It was how many.
Michigan set the tempo and Donovan, whose Florida teams won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, couldn't come up with an alternative answer.
“I thought they capitalized on our turnovers,'' Donovan said, noting Michigan turned the 15 turnovers into 16 points. “At one point we were 3 of 17 in the first half and missed 11 shots within three feet of the basket.''
It was 47-30 at intermission as Michigan made 19 of its 37 field goal attempts while holding Florida to only 12 of 29 shots. Michigan made seven of its 11 3-point shots and out rebounded the Gators 21-14 on the glass.
The second half became a formality.
“We got off to a slow start and that was disappointing,'' said Florida senior Kenny Boynton, who was part of three Elite Eight Gator teams. “Those guys were getting out in transition and we probably had one or two guys back instead of three or four.''
Once again, Michigan point guard Trey Burke showed why he is one of the best back court players in the country.
“They don't really have players who can create. It's all a result of Burke,'' Donovan said. “Because Burke is such a great scorer and has such deep range, we have to go out and play him at the 3-point range. Then he has such great speed and quickness, you have to provide help when he turns the corner.”
When Burke penetrated he often found his back court partner, Nik Sauskas. Sauskas took advantage of some open shots Burke created for him and missed only one of eight field goal attempts and was perfect on six 3-pointers for a game high 22 points. Burke found time to score 15 points and dish seven assists.
Michigan ended up hitting 46.2 percent on 30 of 65 shots and 10 of 19 from 3-point land. They had 13 steals and blocked five shots.
“The second half, we battled, we fought,'' Donovan said. “But I think we hurt ourselves with the way we played. I didn't think we did enough things.''
Donovan pointed to a point in the game when Michigan drove the lane for a lay-up, then intercepted the Gators' inbounds pass and scored again.
“That was like four points within five seconds,'' Donovan mused.
The win sent Michigan to the Final Four, joining Louisville, Syracuse and Wichita State. The Shockers tackle favorite Louisville in the first game at the Georgia Dome Saturday while Syracuse and Michigan meet in the second semi-final.
Florida, and the other 13 SEC teams, are left at home to watch and wish.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.