Florida a favorite for Final Four — if it sticks to what’s working

A decade after Florida won back-to-back national titles under Billy Donovan, successor Mike White has the Gators in the Sweet 16, with a path that suddenly looks a lot easier to the Final Four.

Defending champion Villanova has been bounced. Las Vegas favorite Duke is done. And despite losing shot-blocking center John Egbunu to a torn ACL, the fourth-seeded Gators (26-8) are the top seed left standing in the East, and defending well enough to be a modest favorite to get by Wisconsin.

“It’s about going out there and play hard. How bad do you really want it?” forward Kevarrius Hayes said. “Having [Egbunu] here would be a huge help. He’s definitely the more physical counterpart to our defense. But we can’t sell ourselves short. Even without having him, we played pretty good interior defense so far and I feel like we can still come out on top.”

After watching them smother Virginia 65-39 — a school record for fewest points allowed in the NCAA Tournament — it’s hard to argue. But Friday, Florida will have to deal with 6-foot-10 second-team All-American Ethan Happ and 6-8, 240-pound Nigel Hayes, who made the Big Ten All-Tournament team.

“They’ve sold out to defending at the highest possible level,” coach Mike White said. “We feel like when we continue to do that — and we’re focused and locked in and we complement that with some made shots — we can compete with anybody in the country. So, we’re here, there’s a game to be played, and why not see if we can keep this thing going as long as we can?”

One thing the Gators won’t do in order to keep their NCAA run going is Hack-a-Happ. Yes, Wisconsin ranked just 332nd in free-throw percentage at 64.3, and Happ is a horrid 49.4 percent, but White said Florida won’t resort to fouling him.

“Just got to stick to playing our defense, and that’s about it. I think that takes care of everything else,’’ Kasey Hill said.

“Just stick to the game plan, and don’t let any noise creep in and everything will take care of itself,’’ said Justin Leon, who had 14 points in the win over Virginia, and has provided some much-needed outside shooting lately.