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Final four capsules

Florida

By COMPILED BY TIMES STAFF WRITER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 27, 2000


Florida

RECORD: 28-7.

COACH: Billy Donovan (77-48, fourth year; 112-68 overall).

KEY PLAYER: Sophomore F Mike Miller. Although the Gators roll 10 players in and out of the game, it's the versatile 6-foot-8 Miller who has emerged as the go-to guy. He can hit the three or drive as he did to beat Butler in the tournament opener.

FINAL FOUR HISTORY: The Gators are making their second appearance. Lon Kruger guided the team to the 1994 semifinals where it lost to Duke in Charlotte.

THE SKINNY: Donovan's team might be young, but it's perhaps the deepest left in the field. Yes, the Gators still rely heavily on their three-point shooting, but just about everyone can shoot. That makes them difficult to guard. Donovan also uses his depth to wear down teams. See Duke, which was outscored 13-0 down the stretch. That bodes well for the Gators against UNC.

North Carolina

RECORD: 22-13

COACH: Bill Guthridge (80-27, third year)

KEY PLAYER: G Joseph Forte. The remarkably poised freshman has the rare ability to hit the spot-up three and create his own shot. He was the South Region's Most Outstanding Player.

FINAL FOUR HISTORY: The Tar Heels will be making their NCAA-record 15th trip and have won three championships (1957, '82 and '93).

THE SKINNY: The Tar Heels didn't look much like a Final Four team a couple weeks ago. Many folks said they didn't even belong in the tournament. But despite relying on six players, they've been playing with greater passion, especially on defense, where no NCAA opponent has shot better than 41 percent. They also have been playing without the pressure of great expectations, for a change, as they will again in Saturday's semifinal.

Michigan State

RECORD: 30-7.

KEY PLAYER: Senior G Mateen Cleaves. He isn't the best perimeter shooter, but he's a dangerous penetrator, a top playmaker and a hard-nosed, on-the-ball defender.

FINAL FOUR HISTORY: The Spartans are making their third trip and second straight. They won the 1979 title as Magic Johnson outdueled Larry Bird, and lost in the semifinals at Tropicana Field last year.

THE SKINNY: The Spartans, the only top seed left, are seasoned and possess multiple scoring threats with senior F Morris Peterson, Cleaves and senior F/C A.J. Granger. They also have quality depth. But they have been winning thanks to rebounding and defense. They have put on smothering efforts late in the game against Utah, Syracuse and Iowa State.

Wisconsin

RECORD: 22-13

KEY PLAYER: Senior G Jon Bryant. Although Bryant just hoped to make the roster when he transferred from Division II St. Cloud State, he has emerged. He hit 5 of 9 three-pointers in the West Region final against Purdue.

FINAL FOUR HISTORY: Wisconsin is making its second trip, its first since 1941. It won the championship that year, just the third year of the NCAA Tournament, by beating Washington State 39-34.

THE SKINNY: Bennett must be a history fanatic; he likes those kind of pre-WWII scores. His Badgers might not be exciting for the modern viewer (Parental Guidance is suggested), but they play relentless defense, contesting every pass and shot. They have, however, already lost three times to their Big Ten rivals, Michigan State.

Compiled by Brian Landman

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