2012 Elite 8 Picks: West Regional Final Florida vs. Louisville Odds and Predictions – Free Elite Eight Picks 3/24/2012: It was 25 years ago when point guard Billy Donovan helped Rick Pitino and the Providence Friars reach the Final Four. This Saturday night, Donovan will try to stop his former coach and mentor reach another Final Four, when his seventh-seeded Florida Gators (26-10) meet Pitino’s fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals (29-9) in the West Regional final of the 2012 NCAA tournament. Both teams have surprised and overachieved thus far, but the March success is nothing new for either coach. Pitino has a national title and five Final Four appearances on his coaching resume, while Donovan has three Final Four appearances and two national titles under his belt. Donovan is actually winless in six meetings with Pitino, but the Gators are 1 ½-point favorites in Saturday’s crucial matchup.

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This weekend’s game is not only a matchup of student versus teacher, but it as a major class of styles, as well. The Gators have a high-scoring offense led by a trio of strong guards, and they play at a fast pace whenever possible. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are a defensive-oriented team with size and strength inside, and they like to grind out the game on both ends of the court. With Florida looking to push the tempo and pile up points and Louisville looking to slow things down and play ugly, something has to give. The team that can control the pace of the game will likely be heading to New Orleans.

One area to keep an eye on will be 3-point shooting. With Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal, Florida has three players that can knock down shots from beyond the arc on a regular basis. In fact, the Gators shoot almost 40 percent as a team from 3-point range and take more than 40 percent of their shots from beyond the arc per game. However, the Cardinals rank in the top 20 nationally in field goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense. If the Gators can’t get going from the perimeter on the offensive end, they are going to have a tough time winning.

A critical battle within the game will be the matchup of Florida forward Patric Young and Louisville center Gorgui Dieng. Young is really the only reliable scoring option in the post for the Gators, and while he doesn’t score a ton of points, he does take pressure off of the team’s 3-point shooters. Dieng happens to be an excellent post defender, and he is coming off a seven block performance in Louisville’s upset of top-seeded Michigan State. If he shuts down Young on the offensive end, the rest of the Cardinals can focus on shutting down Florida’s perimeter shooters.

The X-factor in the game will likely be Louisville point guard Peyton Siva. When he is playing at a high level, the Cardinals are a much better team. He is a tough matchup because of his speed, and he is able to slash into the lane and locate open shooters. Siva caught fire during the Big East tournament, and he has stayed hot during the NCAA tournament. Florida will try to wear him down with its trio of guards, but if he makes smart decisions and doesn’t turn the ball over, the Gators could be on trouble.

In the end, Louisville’s commitment on the defensive end should be the difference. The Cardinals have done an excellent job of taking away open 3-point looks for opponents, and the Gators need the 3-point shot to be effective on the offensive end. Not to mention the fact that Louisville’s offense has been much improved in recent weeks since the return of several injured contributors. The Cardinals are at full strength and playing their best basketball at the right time. Florida has the offense firepower to hang around, but Louisville’s defense should dictate the tempo, and the Gators aren’t built to play the Cardinals’ ugly brand of basketball.

Prediction: Louisville Cardinals (+1 ½) Cover the Spread

NCAA TOURNAMENT VEGAS ODDS: Favorite: Florida -1.5 Total: Over/Under 132

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