Getting to this point was a big step for Florida’s Billy Donovan, just as it was for Georgetown’s John Thompson III. It can potentially be so much more intriguing, though, if the latter goes one round deeper.
These 40-year-old coaches, one trying to build his legacy and the other trying to live up to his, look to reach the Minneapolis Regional final when Donovan’s third-seeded Gators (29-6) face Thompson’s seventh-seeded Hoyas (23-9) on Friday.
While neither team has one player to ever advance this far, Donovan has previously been to the regional semifinals and Thompson might feel like he has after a childhood of watching his father’s tournament runs.
“We’re excited, we’re happy, and we’re fortunate to be in the Sweet 16,” Thompson said. “But in looking at the big picture, in looking at the process of putting a program together, it’s just a step. We’re still not where I want to be, still not where we’re going to be.”
The elder Thompson led Georgetown to at least this round on eight occasions, getting the program to three Final Fours and winning a national championship in 1984.
The following season, his Hoyas were involved in one of the most memorable contests in college basketball history as they were stunned by Villanova in the national title game.
Twenty-one years later, the younger Thompson, in his second season at the helm, could face Villanova in the regional final if the Hoyas win this game and the top-seeded Wildcats defeat Boston College in the other Minneapolis semifinal.
A victory Friday would put Georgetown in a regional final for the first time since the Thompson family member who’s a Hall of Famer did it in 1996.
“I don’t put time and thought into how I’m liked or how I’m perceived relative to Pops,” Thompson III said. “We’re doing things the way I think they should be done, and you probably will see some things that are similar to how his teams did things, and you’ll probably see a lot that’s not.”
Donovan led Florida to the national title game in 2000, losing to Michigan State, but the Gators were ousted by a lower seed in one of the first two rounds in five straight tournaments until this year.
That run six seasons ago brought Donovan and the Gators into national prominence, but the program had since been considered an underachiever.
“This team has got balance,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of components to this team. And you know what, the last couple years our teams have been one-dimensional, and you can’t go far being one-dimensional.”
Florida’s success is based greatly on its offensive output, with an average of 79.3 points per game—about 13 more than Georgetown.
The Hoyas, meanwhile, rely on a formula that’s similar to what the elder Thompson employed in the 1980s and ’90s—tough defense and a talented center.
Georgetown has given up an average of 50.5 points in the tournament and ranks 13th nationally this season at 59.0 per game. The Hoyas held Northern Iowa and Ohio State to a combined 37.9 percent from the field in the first two rounds.
A big reason for that success has been 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, a 285-pound sophomore who has evoked memories of Georgetown greats Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.
Hibbert has averaged 18.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in the tournament.
“I don’t think that we have played against anyone with his size and athletic ability,” Donovan said. “You just don’t see a lot of players in college basketball like him.”
Besides trying to contain Hibbert offensively, top Florida big men Joakim Noah and Al Horford also may attack one of this tournament’s biggest players at the other end to get him into foul trouble.
That duo combined for 30 points in an 82-60 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday, but it was small forward Corey Brewer who had the best day offensively by hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 23 points.
Noah, Horford and Brewer all have double-figure scoring averages, as do Florida guards Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey.
Georgetown, meanwhile, had only four players score in its 70-52 second-round upset of No. 2 seed Ohio State on Sunday.
Jeff Green scored 19 points, Ashanti Cook added 17 and Darrel Owens had 14 off the bench for the Hoyas, who committed only eight turnovers against the Buckeyes after having nine against Northern Iowa.
“We beat a very, very good team,” Thompson III said. “I guess we had a bunch of guys who decided they wanted to keep playing. So we’re playing.”