Florida gets lucky in the NCAA Tournament. It has for years.
Four years ago, it was making the NCAA Tournament that was lucky, and as a stunning No. 10 seed; after getting into the field despite thudding to a 4-6 finish over its last 10 games, and a 1-4 stretch over its last five, Florida losing to BYU in overtime was at least a welcome return to March Madness.
Three years ago, Florida got a No. 2 seed that felt maybe a line too high, and got a favorable draw that included practically the same BYU team, one it matched up against beautifully, in the Sweet Sixteen, and No. 8 seed Butler in the Elite Eight. Florida didn't get to the Final Four, but it had a great shot.
The same was true two years ago, when the No. 7-seeded Gators had to knock off a No. 10 seed and a No. 15 seed to get to the Sweet Sixteen, then met a No. 3 seed that it outpaced in advanced metrics there and a Louisville team that struggled to score in the Elite Eight. Again, Florida suffered a heartbreaking loss, but the cards fell the Gators' way until the Cards felled them.
Last year featured Florida on the "luckiest" run to the Elite Eight in NCAA Tournament history: The Gators defeated the No. 14, No. 11, and No. 15 seeds in its bracket to get to a regional final against Michigan, setting an NCAA Tournament record for combined opponents' seed total entering the Elite Eight. That favorable road felt like a correction of sorts to a season spent getting unlucky in close games; Michigan's destruction of the Gators proved they could get blown out, too.
This year, the luck is mostly the residue of Florida's hard work.
The Gators left little doubt about what team had the best résumé in America heading into the NCAA Tournament by winning every game in SEC play and knocking off Kansas and Memphis in non-conference action, and got rewarded with the No. 1 overall seed. That gave them the overmatched foe they could sleepwalk against in Albany, and set up Pittsburgh, a talented team with a history of losing games against better teams, as its round of 32 foe.
And Florida's bracket was stocked with very good but very flawed teams, ones that lost because of their flaws — Kansas, playing without its second-best player, exited the NCAA Tournament on Sunday after falling to Stanford, and Syracuse, playing the same kind of basketball it had played since Valentine's Day, got dropped by Dayton. The only arguably great team left for Florida to face in the South Region is UCLA, Florida's Sweet Sixteen foe ... and a team that Florida has eliminated from three NCAA Tournaments in the last eight years.
UCLA isn't a pushover by any stretch, and the Gators will have to play well to beat the Bruins, who are less than two weeks removed from beating Arizona in a sensational Pac-12 Tournament final. But the Gators are and should be favored in this game, especially with Billy Donovan's stunning 6-1 record in Sweet Sixteen games, and UCLA coach Steve Alford's 0-1 record at that level, hanging over the proceedings.
And their good luck to date has made them the national championship favorite of both the FiveThirtyEight and KenPom predictive models.
Florida's luck could run out at any point, and the Gators all know that well, with 80 percent of the starting lineup having lived through the last three seasons and played in the befuddling losses. UCLA is a team worth respecting and fearing, and Donovan's going to have almost four full days to drill those things into his team.
But Florida is the favorite right now, and sitting where the favorite should be. That's not a bad thing.