David Whitley: Florida Gators men's basketball faces a numbers crunch for NCAA Tournament

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
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Mike White isn’t into numerology, which is good. It’s the study of numbers and the connection they have to events.

On a scientific level, numerology ranks somewhere between astrology and believing in Bigfoot. You don’t want your basketball coach believing in Bigfoot.                 

On an NCAA level, however, numerology rules. And on the most numerological day in memory, Florida came up short.

It was Tuesday, which went by 2-22-22 on the calendar. Numerologists worldwide spent the day trying to divine deeper meanings to all those deuces.

They may not have caused Florida to lose to Arkansas, but the day ended with the Gators facing some sobering numerology.

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There’s no magic number to get into the NCAA Tournament, but the Gators will likely need at least 20 wins to sniff March Madness. That’s 20 going into the SEC Tournament in two weeks.

Arkansas could have been win No. 18 with a lot of style points thrown in. The Razorbacks were a Quadrant-1 opponent (more NCAA numerology).

The Gators are 2-8 in Quad-1 games. Not good. But true to their ever-unpredictable form, they were coming off a mega-upset of No. 2 Auburn last Saturday.

Beating a second straight Quad-1 team would have been mighty impressive to the tournament selection committee. Instead, it was an 82-74 near miss.

The Gators have three games left, starting Saturday at Georgia. They ought to beat the cellar-dwelling Dawgs, but then comes a road game against an improving Vanderbilt team.

That’s followed by a final home game against Kentucky. Do the basketball math, and 18 wins looks likely. Nineteen is a solid maybe.

Twenty?

That seems about as likely as a Bigfoot being spotted eating a hotdog at the O’Connell Center. After the 2-22-22 game on Tuesday, White was asked if he’s counting games, and how much attention he’s paying to the NCAA numerology.

“None,” he said. “We try to get them all…. I know we’ve got to get better.”

They weren’t bad against Arkansas, which was predictable. The Gators usually play up or down to the level of the competition, and the 22-6 Razorbacks are pretty darned good.

But the most consistent thing about this Florida team is its inconsistency. The Gators beat Auburn thanks mostly to a smothering defense, a trait they say is their identity.

That identity got lost Tuesday night. Arkansas feasted on offensive rebounds, loose balls and just had more grit.

Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) shoots a jumper during the first half Tuesday night against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Exactech Arena in Gainesville. [Matt Pendleton/Special to The Sun]

“At certain times, they bullied us,” Colin Castleton said. “They just kept getting second-chance opportunities, third chance, loose balls — just things that show more fight.”

Castleton wasn’t his usual dominating defensive presence near the basket, but he was everywhere else. He scored a career-high 29 points despite getting pounded whenever he touched the ball.

“He’s leaving it all out there,” White said.

However far the Gators go this season, it’s become obvious that Castleton will have to take them there. He’s the only sure thing on offense.

Tyree Appleby is a constant threat to explode or implode. He had 20 points in the second half against Auburn and couldn’t miss. He had 19 against Arkansas but was 3 for 9 on 3-pointers.

Fans rushed the court after the Auburn win, and the SEC fined Florida $50,000 for that public display of affection. The UAA budget was in no danger Tuesday night as Arkansas outscored UF 26-12 in the final 7:44.

Has desperation time arrived?

“I guess that’s the reality,” Anthony Duruji said. “We have to be desperate. We have to be urgent.”

It’s all about the numbers. If Florida is going to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament, they’d better start adding up fast.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley

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