At this point a year ago, the Florida Gators had wrapped up the SEC regular season championship and were on their way to their third straight SEC Tournament title and their second consecutive National Championship. The Gators waited to hear not if, but how high they would be seeded in the NCAA Tournament.
How quickly one year changes everything.
This season, Florida (21-10, 8-8 SEC) is fighting for their tournament life.
The freshman-led Gators have lost three straight games and have only one victory over a Top-50 RPI team (Vanderbilt at home).
As they head into the SEC Tournament, Coach Billy Donovan and his players know that it is imperative that they win in order to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. However, whether or not the two-time defending national champions make it to the "Big Dance," Donovan knows that this year has been a good learning experience for his young team.
"I feel like our guys really need to go through these (tough) experiences to really grow and develop to get to where we want to go," said Donovan the other day. (quote source: gatorsports.com)
The Gators have a chance to take a lot from this season for their future as a team together.
Tough losses to Tennessee and Kentucky this past week hurt Florida's NCAA hopes, but it prepares them for the upcoming season. In addition, Donovan hopes that the pressure of playing as a team "on the bubble" will help the Gators grow accustomed to playing in big games in the future.
Donovan was recently quoted as saying, "If the pressure is getting to them (Florida), that's good. They're going to learn to have to deal with that piece of it (the media). It's the same thing in life. You can't run and hide from that stuff." (quote source: gatorsports.com)
Will the Gators overcome their struggles? Only time will tell.
If the Gators make a good showing at the SEC tourney, they may sneak into the NCAA Tournament. If not, they will have gained invaluable experience and a desire to reach the NCAA Tournament in the future.
In the end, it's a win-win situation.