SEC Tourney success in Tampa hinges on Gators

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When the Southeastern Conference announced Tampa will host the 2022 SEC men’s basketball tournament, it brought rolls of eyes from the rest of the league.

The reason? Tampa’s dismal showing when it last hosted the tournament in 2009:

 

The numbers don’t lie. But don’t forget, the SEC was a three-bid league in 2009. Traditional powers Kentucky and Florida were both down and wound up in the NIT (lest we forget, former Florida guard Erving Walker in tears after his potential game-tying 3-point attempt was blocked in a quarterfinal loss to Auburn).

It was the tail end of the painful rebuild that Florida coach Billy Donovan had to go through to get Gators back to an elite level. And if the Gators are still playing at a high level in 2022, the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be more full this time around. Ditto Kentucky, whose fans travel anyway.

Tampa is a fairly good setup, with major hotels within walking distance of the arena and good nightlife close by at Channelside. Ybor City is a short trolly ride away. Yes, Florida isn’t a great basketball state, but the Tampa Bay Times Forum was fairly full in 2011 when Florida played there in the second round as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Again, winning teams generate interest. Plus, there are worse places to be in March than the Tampa Bay Area if your favorite team is knocked out early. The beach is just a short drive away.

But attendance success in Tampa will hinge on Gator success. It’s just that simple.

Other notes:

— Former Gators Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin both have workouts scheduled Thursday with the Phoenix Suns. I was told by an NBA scout that Wilbekin and Casey Prather were both impressive at an NBA predraft event in Los Angeles last week. Unlike the NBA draft combine in Chicago, players played five-on-five. The NBA scout was impressed with Prather’s ability to finish on the break and his defensive ability, but felt he needed work on his mid-range game. “(He needs) 500 makes (shots) in the gym, every night,” the scout said.

— Here’s an excellent column from ESPN.com’s Eamon Brennan on why Florida coach Billy Donovan hasn’t ruled out the NBA. In my opinion, it would take a special situation for Donovan to leave Florida. Based on his upbringing (growing up in Long Island, N.Y., as a Knicks fan), the New York Knicks would be one of those situations. But Knicks CEO Phil Jacskon appears to have interest elsewhere.