MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In the span of just a few months, Florida has gone from football central to the center of the basketball world with the Miami Heat on a historic 26-game winning streak and the Miami Hurricanes, Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles, and Florida Gators all making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
It started with the Miami Heat’s second game of February. The Heat knocked off the Toronto Raptors, 100-85 on February 3 and since then, the Heat has not lost a game. From hammering the L.A. Lakers and Clippers to stunning come-from-behind wins over the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat have looked unstoppable.
Powered by the Big Three, plus big contributions from Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Norris Cole, the Heat head into the next four games hoping to get to 30 straight wins. To achieve that mark, the Heat will have to win on the road in Chicago and in San Antonio plus avoid upsets in Orlando and New Orleans.
But it’s not just the Heat that has brought basketball into the spotlight for sports fans across the Sunshine State.
The University of Miami had their own 13-game winning streak to start Atlantic Coast Conference play this season and have since claimed both the regular season and conference tournament championships.
The Canes moved to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament with a dominating performance in the opening round against the Pacific Tigers and a four-point victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini in the second round.
UM is set to play a tough Marquette Golden Eagles Thursday for a trip to the Elite Eight and a matchup against the winner of the other East Region game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Syracuse Orangemen.
UM isn’t alone in the NCAA Tournament as the Florida Gators are still alive as a number three seed after walloping Northwestern State and beating the Minnesota Gophers by 14 points to earn their way into the Sweet 16.
Florida has been one of the top teams in the nation this season and will provide a huge test for its opponent in the Sweet 16, the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles. FGCU has become this year’s Cinderella team in only its third season in Division I play.
The Eagles started out the NCAA Tournament as a 15-seed and proceeded to knock out the legendary Georgetown Hoyas, 78-68. Florida Gulf Coast followed that up with another double-digit victory, taking down the seventh-seeded San Diego State Aztecs.
The FGCU program, still in its infancy, could cement its place in history if it can pull off two more wins. First, FGCU must get by the tough Gators team and then will have to play the winner of Kansas vs. Michigan to get to the Final Four.
A few more wins and either the Heat or one of the three college teams could make history. Whatever happens in the NCAA Tournament and whenever the Heat lose, basketball has definitely enjoyed a renaissance in Florida in 2013.