Fresh off another inexplicable loss in the SEC tournament championship game, the Florida Gators basketball team enters this week's NCAA tournament with as many questions as answers. As a result, predicting the fate of the No. 3 seed Gators is akin to flipping a coin: Heads they win, tails they lose.
First, let's take a look at the good. The Gators are an experienced team with back-to-back Elite Eight appearances. Coach Billy Donovan is an impressive 28-10 in NCAA tournament games.
The Gators (26-7) are as healthy as they've been all season, with no major injuries. The No. 3 seed in the South region seems to be a favorable one as compared to the Midwest region with the likes of Louisville, Duke and Michigan State. The Gators certainly have the talent to match up against the South's top two seeds, Kansas and Georgetown.
Despite having struggled at the end of the season, the Gators have proven that they are capable of an extended NCAA tournament run. In addition to winning the SEC regular season title, the Gators posted double-digit victories against Marquette (No. 3 seed, East Region) and Wisconsin (No. 5 seed, West Region) earlier in the season.
Now for the bad. The Gators are entering the NCAA tournament on the wrong end of the momentum scale. After having gone undefeated in January, Florida is 5-4 in its last nine games. Is it possible the Gators peaked too early ?
While Florida was often dominant in league play on the way to a regular season conference title, the SEC clearly lacks top-tier competition, with only three teams advancing to the NCAA tournament (Florida, Missouri and Ole Miss).
Florida's impressive non-conference wins over NCAA tournament teams Marquette, Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee all occurred early in the season when the Gators were playing better basketball.
The Gators also lack a signature win against a quality opponent away from the O'Connell Center in Gainesville.
Finally, let's take a look at the ugly. The Gators are 0-6 in games decided by six points or fewer. Moreover, Florida has blown what seemed to be very comfortable double-digit leads in four of its seven losses. That's ugly.
Florida's inability to close a game has been compounded by the lack of a prolific scorer or team leader who can be counted on in the clutch. Senior guard Kenny Boynton showed signs of assuming that role when he exploded for 11 consecutive points against Alabama to lead the Gators to a come-from-behind victory in the SEC tournament semifinals on Saturday.
However, Boynton has struggled with his shooting, and like his Gator teammates, he has been very inconsistent. Junior center Patric Young often seems invisible on the court, as evidenced by his play in the SEC tournament title game, when he scored three points (1-3 FG, 1-4 FT).
All of this begs the question as to whether the 2012-13 Gators have overachieved or underachieved this season. What is clear is they will need a lot more of the good to overcome the bad and the ugly if they are to advance deep into the NCAA tournament.
Predicting the answer may come down to heads or tails.
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