Gators’ ninth life

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For Florida to extend its NCAA Tournament string to 10 straight appearances, the magic number is nine.

Since 1997-98, only one team in the Southeastern Conference with a regular-season conference record of 9-7 or better has been left out of the tournament. Tennessee didn’t make the tournament in 2002-03 despite a 17-12 overall record and 9-7 record in the SEC.

The Gators would need to split its remaining four regular-season games to reach nine wins. That won’t be an easy task. After tonight’s game at Georgia, Florida hosts division leaders Mississippi State and Tennessee before finishing the regular season March 9 at Kentucky.

An 8-8 conference finish for Florida would leave more to chance and interpretation from the NCAA selection committee. Since 2000, five SEC teams with an 8-8 record have made the tournament with an at-large bid, and six have been left out. Three 8-8 teams (Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss) were left out last season.

Only two 7-9 teams, Arkansas last season and Alabama in 2002-03, have made the tournament as at-large bids. Alabama made the tournament after playing a tough non-conference schedule, while Arkansas secured a bid with a run in the SEC Tournament. The Razorbacks won three straight SEC Tournament games before falling to Florida in the tournament finals.

Here’s a bubble breakdown of SEC teams since the league expanded to 12 teams in 1991-92:

2006-07
NCAA
Kentucky 9-7 (22-12)
Arkansas 7-9 (21-14)

LEFT OUT
Georgia 8-8 (19-14)
Miss. State 8-8 (21-14)
Ole Miss 8-8 (21-13)
Auburn 7-9 (17-15)
Alabama 7-9 (20-12)

2005-06
NCAA
Kentucky 9-7 (22-13)

LEFT OUT
Vanderbilt 7-9 (17-13)

2004-05
NCAA
Miss St 9-7 (23-11)

LEFT OUT
Vanderbilt 8-8 (20-14)
USC 7-9 (20-13)

2003-04
NCAA
Florida 9-7 (20-11)
USC 8-8 (23-11)
Vanderbilt 8-8 (23-10)
Alabama 8-8 (20-13)

LEFT OUT
LSU 8-8 (18-11)
Georgia 7-9 (16-14)
Tennessee 7-9 (15-14)

2002-03
NCAA
Mississippi State 9-7 (21-10)
LSU 8-8 (21-11)
Auburn 8-8 (22-12)
Alabama 7-9 (17-12)

LEFT OUT
Tennessee 9-7 (17-12)

2001-02
NCAA
Ole Miss 9-7 (20-11)

2000-01
NCAA
Georgia 9-7 (16-15)

LEFT OUT
Alabama 8-8 (25-11)
Tennessee 8-8 (22-11)
Mississippi State 7-9 (18-14)
Auburn 7-9 (18-14)

1999-2000
NCAA
Auburn 9-7 (24-10)
Arkansas 7-9 (19-15)*

LEFT OUT
Vanderbilt 8-8 (19-11)

1998-99
NCAA
Arkansas 9-7 (23-11)
Ole Miss 8-8 (20-13)

LEFT OUT
Mississippi State 8-8 (20-13)

1997-98
NCAA
Tennessee 9-7 (20-9)

LEFT OUT
Georgia 7-9 (20-15)
Vanderbilt 7-9 (20-13)
Auburn 7-9 (16-14)

1996-97
NCAA
Vanderbilt 9-7 (19-12)

LEFT OUT
Arkansas 8-8 (18-14)

1995-96
NCAA
Georgia 9-7 (21-10)
Arkansas 9-7 (20-13)

LEFT OUT
Alabama 9-7 (19-13)
South Carolina 8-8 (19-12)
Vanderbilt 7-9 (18-14)

1994-95
NCAA
Florida 8-8 (17-13)

LEFT OUT
Georgia 9-7 (18-10)
Auburn 7-9 (16-13)

1993-94
NCAA
None

LEFT OUT
Vanderbilt 9-7 (20-12)
Mississippi State 9-7 (18-11)
Ole Miss 7-9 (14-13)

1992-1993
NCAA
LSU 9-7 (22-11)

LEFT OUT
Florida 9-7 (16-12)
Georgia 8-8 (15-14)
Auburn 8-8 (15-12)
Alabama 7-9 (16-13)

1991-92
NCAA
None

LEFT OUT
Florida 9-7 (19-14)
Tennessee 8-8 (19-15)
Georgia 7-9 (15-14)
Mississippi State 7-9 (15-13)

* Won conference tournament to secure automatic bid