Elite 8 Match-up Breakdown: #7 Florida vs. #4 Louisville

Florida's freshman sensation Bradley Beal had little trouble with Marquette. Can he be equally effective against Louisville tonight in the Elite 8?

In the final weekend of NCAA Basketball before the venue changes to New Orleans, Louisiana for the Final Four, the two days of Elite 8 March Madness competition kicks off on Saturday with two fantastic pairings for the West and East Regional finals. With the 7th-seeded Florida Gators opening the action today against the 4th-seeded Louisville Cardinals, followed up with a fantastic #1 vs. #2 pairing with the Syracuse Orangemen battling the Ohio State Buckeyes, you can be certain to find close betting lines for both these outstanding match-ups, at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here. We’ll take a deeper look into the first game of the day between the Florida Gators and the Louisville Cardinals, the betting lines for the contest listed at one of the featured top sports betting sites, and make our pick for the eventual winner who will make their way towards destiny and the glory of participating in the 2012 NCAA Final Four.

Match-up Details for #7 Florida Gators vs. #4 Louisville Cardinals:

Tip-Off at 4:30 PM ET. US Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona

Whether or not you expected either of these teams to be this far along in the tournament given their shortcomings this season, there’s no questioning whether these two programs are familiar with the territory, as Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators shoot for a 4th Final Four under his reign, while Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals try to make the final showdown for the 6th time under his charge. The elder statesmen Pitino has historically owned this match-up, going 6-0 in meetings with Florida head-to-head, but with these two programs operating in entirely different fashion this year, all bets are out as to who will have the upper hand tonight. This is a classic teacher vs. student showdown, as Billy Donovan was once a player under Rick Pitino at Providence, and the two elite coaches share plenty of love between each other off the court. On the court however, it’s business as usual, and both coaches will be intent on handing the other a loss, with a respectful hug and handshake after it’s all said and done.

For Florida, tonight’s game is all about maximizing their talent on offense, and avoid collapsing on the defensive end of the ball. Freshman Bradley Beal (14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds/game) has entered the spotlight as a true NCAA star this season, and comes into today’s match-up off a fine 21 point performance to help the Gators past Marquette in the Sweet 16. Kenny Boynton (16.0 ppg), Florida’s leading scorer and floor general, and Erving Walker (12.1 ppg, 4.5 assist/game) manage the outside perimeter game for the Gators, while big talent lies within the paint courtesy of Erik Murphy (10.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Patric Young (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg). There’s plenty of talent here with all 5 starters in double figures, however for tonight it’ll be how those players respond to a very well-coached Louisville team that has gotten by with oppressive defense in both the Big East and the NCAA Tournament thus far. Florida will have to get a better shooting night out of Kenny Boynton in the face of a quick Cardinals perimeter defense, as he was just 2-for-10 from the floor against Marquette, including 1-of-5 from 3-pt range. A bigger game from Patric Young would be a boost for Florida as well, as he’s yet to score in double digits in this tournament. The Gators do have a big of a size advantage over Louisville in the paint tonight, so it’s crucial for both Young and Erik Murphy to be on their best form against a Cardinals team that has been beating teams by being scrappy and playing each possession like it were their last.

Louisville on the flipside is not known for a talented scoring offense, and doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well (42.4 percent from the floor, 225th in the NCAA), but they do have a number of players that can help carry them to victory in this match-up with Florida. Peyton Siva certainly answered the call to step up in the Big East tournament, but has been ice cold shooting in his last two games, averaging just 5 points over two games while shooting a combined 4-for-15 from the floor and 0-for-3 from beyond the arc. That has to improve tonight against the relatively weak perimeter defense of Florida, which can be susceptible to the outside shot. Along those lines, team leader Kyle Kuric (13.1 ppg) also needs to improve his form, as he’s averaging just 8.5 points per game while shooting just over 40 percent from the floor. Without one of these two players contributing at an efficient level, Florida’s offense could have the ability to outpace and simply outscore the Cardinals, despite their best defensive efforts. That said, Louisville will also be looking to their freshman sensation Chane Behanan for scoring answers, as he’s coming off a near double-double in the win over Michigan State (15 pts, 9 rebounds), as well as Senegalese big man Gorgui Dieng (9.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg), who simply has to be a defensive standout against Florida’s Erik Murphy and Patric Young in the paint. Dieng hasn’t scored more than 6 points in the tournament, but his defensive efforts may perhaps be even more important tonight yet again, as he’ll be tasked with helping to gain an advantage in the rebounding department tonight.

These two contrasting styles of play will make for a very interesting match-up tonight, but one thing that has been noticeable in the NCAA Tournament thus far is that high-scoring teams have a tendency to become frustrated with defenses that prevent quick transition offense, and force shooting to the perimeter. For Florida, they are going to have to react well to the inevitable slowdown on offense created by the Cardinal D, which has yet to allow more than 64 points in a game in the last 5 contests. Florida thrives on high-scoring games, averaging over 76 points of offense on the season, gaining an advantage with their fast-paced style of play. That will likely be taken away from them tonight, as Rick Pitino’s Cardinals likes to run with a smaller, faster lineup that has the ability to get back quickly on defense, and force opposing teams to run set plays. In order for Florida to prevail tonight then, they’ll have to pick and choose good shots from the outside, and utilize their star freshman Bradley Beal along with their inside players to pound the ball towards the hoop. If left to shoot from the perimeter, Florida is going to struggle tonight, especially with Louisville playing well on the defensive glass. If they can get the ball inside and work in front of Gorgui Dieng (who is susceptible to foul trouble), Florida could find a way to chip away points against a smaller Louisville front court.

For Louisville tonight, a strong defensive effort should be a given, especially with Rick Pitino’s ability to make quick adjustments during games, and his player’s discipline under his expert tutelage. This is a smart basketball team that while short on scoring talent, has a good collective basketball IQ that has them focusing on their opponents’ weaknesses and poised to take the best possible shots on offense. Making their best shots count will be the difference in the game tonight for the Cards. Kyle Kuric needs to step up from the 3-point arc, an Peyton Siva needs to be a factor by driving to the lane and exploiting a Florida defense known to struggle with quick assignments. While Louisville can’t afford to get into a shoot-out with Florida, they can pick them apart by working off set plays, and penetrating towards the hoop. If there is anything the Gators truly lack, it’s the ability to play a complete defensive game against a well-run offense. Taking advantage of that weakness with good ball movement and contributions throughout the line-up will pay dividends for Louisville today.

Betting Lines for #7 Florida vs. #4 Louisville at Sportsbetting Sportsbook

Heading to one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here at the Sportsbetting Sportsbook, we find the betting lines for this exciting match-up putting the two teams very close together, making for some tough betting decisions on the first Elite 8 match-up.

On the money line, Florida takes the slight favorite at -120 odds to win straight up, with Louisville trailing as a EVEN money option.

Against the spread, Florida is just a -1 point favorite at -110 odds, while the Louisville Cardinals get just 1 point to play with for underdog spread pickers.

The over/under for this game is split between the high-scoring aspects of the Florida Gators style of play, and the repressive defensive efforts of the Louisville Cardinals. With 131 points as the mark set, expectations are set for a mid-60 point effort for both sides. That would assume that Florida can score more than Louisville has allowed in a game over the last month, and also would assume that Louisville finally scores more than 60 points in a game this tournament.

Our Prediction:

With Florida relying on a faster-paced, higher scoring approach to win ballgames, it will be interesting to see how they react when faced with the best defense left in the NCAA tournament this year. Florida has however played much better defense down the home stretch of the season, allowing no more than 58 points in their last 3 games heading into tonight. Louisville as well has been outstanding on defense, so it seems to suggest that the team that can have more success shooting the ball tonight will have the upper hand. In that case, the signs seem to point towards Florida, with their more talented array of shooters, and better shooting percentage from the floor and from beyond the arc. You have to like the way Florida matches up inside the paint, and in a game where both teams are reasonably well matched in the rebounding category, the Gators via their size and depth may have an upper hand around the hoop tonight. While I fully expect Louisville to give a fantastic run at tonight’s game, I also expect the Gators to simply have too much offense, play a better defensive game than predicted, and pull away with a close victory in Phoenix tonight. The student finally gets the better of the teacher tonight, with a final score Florida 66, Louisville 62.

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