Florida is on a school-record 23-game winning streak, and has won every single SEC game it has played this season. Florida is the No. 1 team in the country according to both national polls. Could Florida really need a loss in the SEC Tournament heading into the 2014 NCAA Tournament?
This is the argument proposed by Kyle Tucker of the (Louisville) Courier-Journal on Wednesday, with a couple salient facts to back it up: 1) Since 1975-76 Indiana went unbeaten, no team has won the NCAA Tournament on a winning streak longer than 13 games and 2) Kentucky teams in 2011-12 and 1995-96 had long winning streaks end in the SEC Tournament, then went on to win the NCAA Tournament.
It's sound fact-based reasoning, and Tucker made the same argument for 2011-12 Kentucky and is adamant that he's pushing nothing...
.@AlligatorArmy You kidding me? I'm pushing a "Florida-diminishing narrative" because I cover UK? Dude, I wrote the EXACT same of UK in '12.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 13, 2014
So there are actual humans who somehow interpreted this as a knock on Florida. Oh, humans. Sigh. http://t.co/J8umzk3MYt— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 13, 2014
...but the logic is lacking, I think, and doesn't work as well for Florida.
Would Tucker have argued that Wichita State should have lost a game in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament? I doubt it, even if he notes that "It’s too late for Wichita State and that 34-0 record to heed this warning." Tucker's got nothing to gain from riling up Wichita State fans, and plenty to gain from riling up Florida fans while providing Kentucky fans with reason to believe their 'Cats might win the SEC Tournament. And Wichita State losing to a Valley team would have been occasion for another round of national doubting of the Shockers; Florida losing to an SEC team, when it did virtually the same things to them that Wichita State did to Valley squads, wouldn't be impetus for much more than, "Oh, huh, Florida lost."
But Wichita State is now in a position where it can do nothing other than "succumb" to this history, or break the mold. And if Wichita State wins six straight games and a national title, it won't be "in spite of" winning the 34 games before that 6-0 run. The Shockers are plenty motivated, internally and externally, to win it all — and the thesis Tucker proposes, as far as I can tell, is that a loss right before the NCAA Tournament can motivate a team.
Florida, much like Wichita State, does not lack for motivation. These Gators will enter the NCAA Tournament as a senior-laden team set on making their first Final Four and winning a national title whether they win the SEC Tournament title or not; that's just how they've been wired all year. Losing to an inferior SEC team — and, to be clear, they are all inferior to Florida this year, and have lost to Florida already — doesn't seem like something that would set this team off or raise its game to some higher level.
This team isn't full of freshmen and future NBA players who could get cocky and coast on talent like 2011-12 Kentucky was, or full of future NBA players who could get cocky and bored and coast on talent like 1995-96 Kentucky — which immolated every SEC team its saw, and played one single-digit game between Christmas in 1995 and the 1996 SEC Tournament Final — was. 2013-14 Florida has done well to treat every opponent with respect and play every game like it mattered so far, and winning or losing in the SEC Tournament doesn't seem like it will change that approach.
And, if it happens, a Florida loss won't change the Gators' national perception enough to relieve pressure — negligible in the first place, because these guys are under their own pressures — or make Florida any less of a favorite for the national title. The "benefits" a loss could provide boil down to rest, really, and Florida's not tired.
But a loss might make selling the possibility of a deep run by Kentucky easier. After all, in the last 30 years, only ultimate underdog 1984-85 Villanova, and the 1987-88 Kansas team dubbed "Danny and the Miracles" have won a national title without winning their conference's regular-season or tournament title.
And it looks pretty likely that, without Florida excusing itself from Atlanta, Kentucky will be without a title.
So, no, Florida doesn't need to lose in the SEC Tournament to have a better shot in the NCAA Tournament. But Kentucky sure could use a Florida loss.