Florida Basketball: 5-Step Plan to Earn a No. 1 Seed in March Madness
When Florida earned a No. 1 seed in the 2007 NCAA tournament, head coach Billy Donovan and his squad cut down the nets for the second straight year.
The Gators have not danced as a top seed since then, and though they've reached two consecutive Elite 8s, they have not returned to the Final Four since the days of Joakim Noah and Al Horford.
Florida has positioned itself for a shot at a No. 1 seed in the 2013 tournament, ranking No. 8 in this week's AP Top 25. But in order to edge the teams at the top of the poll, the Gators need a few factors to play to their favor.
Here's a five-step plan for Florida to earn a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
It's simple and basically goes without saying, but in order to earn a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, Florida needs to continue its winning ways.
The Gators currently boast a 14-2 (4-0 SEC) record, and winning out would all but secure a top seed. As dominant as Florida has been, though—the Gators have an average margin of victory of 26.8 points in SEC play—an immaculate mark from here on out seems likely but not guaranteed.
Florida still has to face Kentucky twice and Missouri—presumably with a healthy Laurence Bowers—on the road. Ole Miss shares first place with the Gators, but the Rebels didn't have the fortune to draw a home game with Florida.
At this juncture, the Gators should be favored in each of their remaining games. But surprise and college basketball are essentially synonymous, and there's always the chance that Kentucky gels, Missouri gets back on track with Bowers and Ole Miss is actually as good as its record.
The Gators' task is simple: avoid letdowns and take care of business. Then, the No. 1 seed should be theirs for the taking.
In order to maintain its superior status in the SEC, Florida's healthy players need to fend off injury and its banged-up players need to progress toward 100 percent.
The Gators haven't been at full strength for quite some time, making their recent domination all the more impressive. Will Yeguete has played through tendonitis and Scottie Wilbekin's finger hasn't forced him to miss time, but Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario and Casey Prather have all sat games with various injuries.
Prather is currently the only sidelined Gator, as he recovers from an ankle sprain suffered against LSU last week. Florida can survive without Prather—especially against Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State—but the Gators need to get healthy and stay healthy.
Otherwise, a promising season could finish in disappointment.
Shakeup at the Top
By now, you've heard all about the SEC's inferior status among the six BCS conferences—even the MWC and A-10 rank higher in conference RPI.
So even if Florida runs the table, the Dukes, Michigans and Louisvilles of college basketball all face tougher competition and would need to lose a few games for the Gators to surpass them in talks for a No. 1 seed.
That could happen, though. The Selection Committee would favor a two-loss Florida team over a four-loss Michigan team, at this point for example, and with the Big Ten's bevy of tournament teams, the Wolverines will lose again at some juncture.
But if the Gators fall to any SEC team—perhaps with the exception of Missouri—their No. 1 seed cause will take a serious hit.
Big Ten Cannibalism
Right now, four Big Ten teams have legitimate chances of obtaining a No. 1 seed. Michigan and Indiana are the two clear favorites to do so, but Michigan State and Minnesota also have impressive resumes that could be strengthened by the Big Ten gauntlet.
If they beat up on each other, however, the Big Ten might only account for one of the four top seeds.
Minnesota, for example, has already beaten Michigan State. But if the Spartans return the favor, the Golden Gophers' No. 1 seed aspirations would take a hit. And if the Spartans, Hoosiers and Wolverines all split their matchups with each other, the committee would probably favor an undefeated Florida team.
Of course, if Kentucky and Missouri were actually as good as billed, Florida wins over those SEC foes would hold more weight. But neither team has played to its preseason expectations.
It helps that Ole Miss is 15-2, but the Rebels have only beaten Missouri, while they've lost to Middle Tennessee and Indiana State, two solid mid-majors, but teams a good SEC squad should dispose of with ease.
Kentucky, meanwhile, didn't pick up a valuable win out of conference. Missouri beat VCU and Illinois, but the Fighting Illini have slumped terribly and could easily find themselves watching the NCAA tournament from their couches.
Playing against weak SEC competition, Kentucky, Missouri and Ole Miss will have trouble proving themselves. One loss to a Mississippi State or even an Arkansas would raise more questions.
From Florida's standpoint, the Wildcats, Tigers and Rebels need to beat each other and lose to no one else to maximize the SEC's strength. That way, Gator wins over those teams would aid their cause for the No. 1 seed.