Confetti rained from the heavens and streamers snaked through the air on Sunday in St. Louis as Kentucky claimed the Southeastern Conference Tournament crown. Florida, which was eliminated from the tournament on Friday, watched from home and waited. The Gators could do nothing to help or hinder their NCAA Tournament seeding.
When the event that gives Selection Sunday its name began at 6 p.m., Florida only waited 10 minutes to learn that it was in the tournament. It waited another 20 to learn its fate: The Gators are a No. 6 seed in the East Region and will play in Dallas. UF (20-12, 11-7 SEC) will open its tournament run against either St. Bonaventure or UCLA on Thursday at 9:55 p.m. on truTV.
This result was in question as late as two weeks ago.
The Gators started the season with thunder and briefly led the nation in scoring. They arguably peaked with an overtime win over Gonzaga on Nov. 24 in the Phil Knight Invitational before losing to Duke. From their, they temporarily collapsed and lost three out of their next four.
Since then, the Gators have been a roller-coaster team, and they hit the lowest loop on their wild ride by losing three in a row to Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee as the season’s end approached.
With three games left, coach Mike White issued an ultimatum.
“I’ll just be very, very clear,” he said at the time. “There’s a chance we can play in the NCAA Tournament, and there’s a chance we can go to the NIT. Period.”
His team responded with three consecutive wins to conclude the regular season, all of which came against NCAA Tournament-bound teams (Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky).
CBS college basketball analyst Seth Davis already put Florida on upset alert by predicting that regardless of who wins between UCLA and St. Bonaventure, the Gators will lose their first game.
If Davis is wrong and the Gators win, their corner of the bracket features No. 1 seed Villanova, No. 2 seed Purdue, No. 3 seed Texas Tech, No. 4 seed Wichita State and No. 5 seed West Virginia ahead of them. If Florida makes it out of the first round, it would face either Texas Tech or No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin.
Arkansas, which beat the Gators in the SEC tournament, could play Florida in the Sweet 16 if both teams make it that far.
The appearance is Florida’s second in a row. The Gators improbably reached the Elite Eight a season ago when a Chris Chiozza buzzer beater lifted them over Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. They fell to South Carolina to miss the Final Four.
Florida’s last one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament was in the 2010 rendition, when the Gators lost to BYU, while its last Final Four berth came in 2014.
FSU IN WEST REGION
The Florida State Seminoles were awarded the No. 9 seed in the West Region despite defeating the higher-seeded Gators on Dec. 4. FSU (20-11, 9-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) will play its first game on Friday against No. 8 seed Missouri at 9:45 p.m. on TBS in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Seminoles’ season was one of close wins and close losses, but they’re not heading into the NCAA Tournament with much momentum. Florida State has lost three of its past four games, including — like the Gators — a first-round exit from the ACC tournament against lower-seeded Louisville.
The Seminoles made the tournament last season and advanced to the second round before being ousted by Xavier. The 2018 tournament will mark FSU’s 16th appearance.
The team’s matchup against Missouri will carry additional intrigue thanks to the return of Mizzou’s Michael Porter Jr., a consensus five-star recruit and potential NBA lottery pick who was sidelined until the SEC tournament, where he only played in one game before his team was sent back to Columbia to await its tournament seeding.
Florida, Florida State and Miami — a No. 6 seed in the South Region — were the only schools from Florida to earn invitations.