ARLINGTON, Texas -- When there are murmurings up and down press row that the game is over, and it's just five minutes into a regional final, you get the sense of the mismatch that was unfolding on this particular afternoon between Michigan and Florida. With four minutes left in the first half and the Wolverines up by 24, the game was effectively over.
The second half was mostly ceremonial, and Michigan booked its trip to the Final Four with a comprehensive 79-59 win over a surprisingly lethargic Florida team. It's John Beilein's first trip to the Final Four as a head coach and Michigan's first appearance on the last weekend of the college basketball season since the Fab Five went to back-to-back national title games in 1992 and '93. The NCAA has some opinion as to the existence of those appearances, so this is the school's first "official" Final Four since 1989.
This was an absolute pounding from the opening tip. The Wolverines scored the first basket of the game. Then another. Then a three. Then three more baskets without a response from the Gators. It was 13-0 barely three minutes into the game. The lead continued to grow, thanks in large part to Nik Stauskas, who made all five of his three-point attempts in the half, basically from the same spot in the left corner. The lead grew to 23-5 and then 35-15, as Billy Donovan desperately shuffled his deck to no avail.
The Wolverines' first-half peak was 41-17 late in the period, and despite a couple of mini Florida surges, the result was never really in doubt. The Gators never managed to get the lead even to single digits. Michigan led by double figures for the final 37 minutes of the game, a staggering accomplishment in a regional final against a team of Florida's overall quality.
Michigan moves on to a national semifinal against Syracuse on Saturday while Florida enters another offseason following a regional final loss. The Gators, especially their seniors, should be proud of what they've accomplished. With the program coming off back-to-back NIT appearances after the class of ‘04 left Gainesville, this group played in 14 NCAA tournament games and three straight Elite Eights. But unlike the last two seasons, where Florida lost late leads to miss the Final Four, this game was never close.
Overall, Florida's NCAA tournament run seemed to sum up this year's version of the Gators perfectly. They beat a 14, 11 and 15-seed to make it to this point, dominating inferior teams like they had all season. But when things weren't easy, they couldn't deliver. It's a tough epitaph for a team with so many accomplishments, but based on today's performance, not an unfair one.