Here’s a look at Florida’s current NCAA Tournament resume:
Record: 22-9 (9-7 Southeastern Conference)
Strength of Schedule: 90
Last 10 games: 4-6
Key wins: Washington, South Carolina
Bad losses: at Georgia, at Mississippi State
So where does Florida stand for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid? Different analysts have different opinions. Noted ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi currently has Florida as one of his last four teams out. College RPI.com founder Jerry Palm, on the other hand, has Florida in the tournament at a No. 10 seed.
Before the conference season began, I felt 10 regular-season wins in a down SEC, plus one in the SEC Tournament, would get Florida back to the tourney after a one-year absence. At 9-7, Florida fell a win short. Think that loss at South Carolina doesn’t loom large now? Had Florida not suffered the horrendous last-second meltdown against the Gamecocks, the Gators would have finished at 10-6 and gotten a No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament. South Carolina would have fallen to 9-7 with the No. 3 seed. By the way, Lunardi currently has South Carolina as one of his last four teams in the NCAA Tournament.
But losses like that separate NCAA Tournament-worthy teams from NIT teams.
Fortunately for Florida, there’s still a chance to make it with a good showing this week in Tampa. My opinion is if the Gators win two games in the SEC Tournament, they’re in. If Florida beats an Arkansas team in free-fall Thursday night, then follows it up with it a win against Auburn, it would increase its win total to 24. Plus, it would be hard for the committee to justify taking Auburn ahead of Florida if the Gators beat the Tigers on a neutral floor after beating them on the road earlier this year.
Some other things to consider heading toward Selection Sunday:
* SEC commissioner Mike Slive is chairman of the NCAA Tournament selection committee this season. Slive is supposed to leave the room when SEC teams are discussed, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t be at least peeking through the keyhole. Given the SEC’s non-conference struggles this season, the league likely deserves only four bids. But don’t be surprised if Slive’s influence lands the SEC five teams.
* During preseason SEC media days in October, Slive talked about the committee trying to balance a team’s body of work more with how it finished. That could work to Florida’s advantage. The Gators have struggled (4-6) down the stretch, but important non-conference wins against Washington and North Carolina State could stand out in a bubble situation.