SEC basketball is Florida’s world this year, and the rest of the teams are simply living in it.
The Gators became the first team in conference history to finish league play 18-0 and hold the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament as a result. Perhaps no other team in the country is as overwhelming of a favorite in its respective conference tournament as the Gators.
Elsewhere, Tennessee and Arkansas are looking to improve their resumes in Atlanta as Selection Sunday nears, and Kentucky is merely trying to right the ship before the Big Dance after falling drastically short of preseason expectations.
Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com pointed out the contrast between the Wildcats and the Gators heading into the postseason:
Kentucky and its ubertalented freshmen grabbed the headlines in the preseason, a squad so once-in-a-generation special it spawned silly talk of a 40-0 season. The Wildcats instead endured the reality of growing pains, and they have yet to realize their potential.
In the meantime, Florida, with its ubertalented seniors, finished the SEC regular season undefeated, the first in the conference to go 18-0 and only the fourth team from a major conference to finish a league slate unscathed in the past 15 seasons.
Were it not for a certain team in Wichita, Kan., we might be singing more loudly the praises of Florida and its consistency.
Here is a look at the entire bracket Kentucky and Florida will be up against, courtesy of Tennessee Sports Radio:
Now that we know what the overall field looks like, let’s take a look at the first day’s schedule (Wednesday, March 12) and dig into some overall bracket predictions.
No. 12 Auburn vs. No. 13 South Carolina
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Live Stream: ESPN3
No. 11 Vanderbilt vs. No. 14 Mississippi State
Time: 25 minutes after the conclusion of the first game
TV: SEC Network
Live Stream: ESPN3
Florida Cruises to a Championship
The SEC is weaker than every other power conference as well as some of those that are traditionally (if not falsely) seen as mid-majors.
However, that is not Florida’s fault, and it shouldn’t be held against the Gators in evaluating their overall worth and resume. After all, Billy Donovan’s team cruised through the 18-game conference schedule, winning by an average of 13 points a game.
Donovan lauded his senior-laden team after the final regular-season victory over Kentucky, per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
When you invest four years likes these guys have invested, it means something to them. They're going to carry this with them for the rest of their lives. They're going to have their children and they're going to come back here and they're going to be remembered for what they've done.
They've done something that's not happened here before.
The only two games the Gators lost all year were at Wisconsin and at Connecticut when the Gators were far less than 100 percent. Those are difficult places to win even when a team is at full strength, so those early-season injury and suspension concerns proved costly in nonconference play.
However, Florida responded by beating Kansas and Memphis and steamrolling through the SEC.
Behind seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young, the Gators are more experienced and talented than any other team in the league and will respond accordingly with a tournament crown.
That group of seniors needs just four wins to tie the school record for career victories.
Tennessee—not Kentucky—will Give the Gators the Biggest Challenge
Despite the preseason expectations, Kentucky has a single victory of note all year, and that came over Louisville early in the season.
Even if the Wildcats do emerge from their side of the bracket over the likes of Georgia, LSU and others to reach the finals, they won’t be the biggest challengers to Florida.
The most dangerous threat to the Gators' dominance will come in the form of Tennessee, which has won four games in a row and is desperately fighting for its tournament life. It won the last three in dramatic fashion with tallies of 76-38 over Vanderbilt, 82-54 over Auburn and 72-45 over Missouri.
Clearly, the Vols want their invite card to the Big Dance.
Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes represent one of the best tandems in the entire league. McRae is scoring 18.8 points a night, and Stokes is adding 14.5.
With the extra motivation that comes with life on the bubble and a talented offensive pairing leading the way, Tennessee will put up a fight against Florida in the semifinals. While it will ultimately be in vain, the Vols will make enough of an impact on the selection committee to earn a spot at the table for the NCAA tournament.
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