Smash the slipper: Florida's nearly flawless NCAA Tournament record against Cinderella

Doug Pensinger

Florida Gulf Coast will look to continue one of the most unlikely runs in NCAA Tournament history against Florida on Saturday. But the Gators haven't been kind to Cinderella, especially under Billy Donovan.

Florida Gulf Coast University's status as the first No. 15 seed to make the Sweet Sixteen makes it the darling of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

But to the mighty Florida Gators, the Eagles might well be just another bit of meat. Florida has met Cinderellas many times under Billy Donovan, and more or less dispatched them summarily.

Florida's played 52 NCAA Tournament games in the history of the program (including five vacated by the NCAA), and 40 of those have come under Donovan. (Next time you think about the greatest coaches in UF history, consider that Donovan's essentially quadrupled his predecessors' NCAA Tournament work combined.) In those 52 games, Florida has seen a team seeded eight or more seed lines lower — beyond the treacherous No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups, in other words — 16 times.

And it has put up a 15-1 record against them.

  • 1994: 2-0 (No. 3 Florida beat No. 11 Penn and No. 14 James Madison)
  • 1999: 1-0 (No. 6 Florida beat No. 14 Weber State)
  • 2001: 1-1 (No. 3 Florida beat No. 14 Western Kentucky, lost to No. 11 Temple)
  • 2003: 1-0 (No. 2 Florida beat No. 15 Sam Houston State)
  • 2005: 1-0 (No. 4 Florida beat No. 13 Ohio)
  • 2006: 3-0 (No. 3 Florida beat No. 14 South Alabama, No. 11 Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and No. 11 George Mason)
  • 2007: 2-0 (No. 1 Florida beat No. 16 Jackson State and No. 9 Purdue)
  • 2011: 1-0 (No. 2 Florida beat No. 15 UC Santa Barbara)
  • 2012: 1-0 (No. 7 Florida beat No. 15 Norfolk State)
  • 2013: 2-0 (No. 3 Florida beat No. 14 Northwestern State and No. 11 Minnesota)
  • On Friday, Florida will become the first team in NCAA Tournament history to play No. 15 seeds in the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament when it adds a Sweet Sixteen game against No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast to round of 64 games against Sam Houston State and UC Santa Barbara and 2012's round of 32 game against Norfolk State. I suspect Florida's feat of playing a No. 15 seed progressively deeper in the tournament over the last three years (in the round of 64 in 2011, in the round of 32 in 2012, in the Sweet Sixteen in 2013) will probably remain unique for quite some time.

    Adding Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 gives Florida games against two of the seven No. 15 seeds ever to win games in the NCAA Tournament, which matches Georgetown (which got 2001 Hampton in the round of 32); Florida is the first to see two of them after their wins, and has a chance to become the first team to defeat two of those teams.

    And Florida will become just one of a handful of teams in NCAA Tournament history to play three double-digit seeds in one tournament on Friday: No. 2 Georgia Tech did it in 1986, defeating No. 15 Marist and No. 10 Villanova before falling to No. 11 LSU in the Sweet Sixteen, No. 1 Michigan State did it in 2001, beating No. 16 Alabama State, No. 12 Gonzaga, and No. 11 Temple on the way to the Final Four, and No. 2 Kansas did it in 2012, beating No. 15 Detroit, No. 10 Purdue, and No. 11 North Carolina State en route to the NCAA Tournament final.

    With La Salle (which I believe is the second double-digit seed to play more than one double-digit seed ever, following VCU in 2011) still alive on the other side of the bracket, Florida could conceivably play four double-digit seeds this year, which would be bizarre — though perhaps not as bizarre as 2013 Arizona potentially matching the that record for double-digit seeds faced in the Elite Eight, should the Wildcats and Explorers both get there.

    Florida has also faced combined seed number roads of 25 (the maximum possible number for a team in the field of 64) to the Sweet Sixteen three times, in 1994, 2011, and 2013.

    Also, though this should be somewhat obvious, Florida's Elite Eight road of No. 14, No. 11, and No. 15 seeds is the easiest in terms of combined seeds in NCAA Tournament history. At a combined seed number of 40, the only road that could exceed it without a play-in game is one including the No. 12, No. 13, and No. 16 teams in a regional, and, because No. 1 seeds play No. 8 or No. 9 seeds in the round of 32 with wins, could only be accomplished by a No. 4 or No. 5 seed. (2011 VCU and 2013 La Salle are the only play-in teams ever to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, and ended up with combined seed numbers of 30 and 39, respectively, in their Elite Eight roads.)

    "Easy" as it's been so far, though, Florida could also still play three No. 1 seeds in 2013 if it faces Kansas in the Elite Eight, Indiana in the Final Four, and Louisville in the NCAA Tournament final. I'd rate that as the single strangest NCAA Tournament slate ever if it happens.

    Florida's Cinderella bona fides aren't limited to high (er, or low) seeds faced. Florida has played a number of the most memorable Cinderellas that March Madness has produced: Pennsylvania (the lowest seed ever to make the Final Four as a No. 9 in 1979) in 1987, 1994, and 1999; Weber State, which beat No. 3 North Carolina in 1999, handing the Tar Heels their first and still only first round loss ever, in 1999; Gonzaga in 1999, when Casey Cavalry lifted the Bulldogs to their first and only Elite Eight; Butler in 2000, 2007, and 2011, with the winner going to the NCAA final in all three years; George Mason, off a sensational run, in the 2006 Final Four; Norfolk State in 2012, one of the six No. 15 seeds ever (at the time) to topple a No. 2.

    Florida is the only team to play Butler three times in the NCAA Tournament and the only team to defeat the Bulldogs twice; Florida's also one of four teams to have played both Butler and Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament (Arizona, Connecticut, and Maryland are the three others; 'Zona and UConn have both beaten both Bulldogs, while Florida is the only team to lose to both).

    All that said, though: Florida's record against underdogs by seed is not quite as rosy as that 16-1 record above suggests. The Gators have lost to double-digit seeds five times, though not since 2004, and have lost in the first round to double-digit seeds three times. And Florida's only Sweet Sixteen loss under Billy Donovan was to that 10th-seeded Gonzaga team in 1999.

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