The prevailing narrative about Florida's men's basketball team, ever since its destruction of West Virginia in late January, is one that faults both the Gators and coach Mike White for failing to make good on momentum and secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
It's a compelling one: Florida has had an up-and-down February to date, going 4-4 by alternating wins and losses every week — the Gators have won every midweek game they've played in February, but lost on all four Saturdays they have taken the court. The last unbeaten week the Gators had was in mid-January, and all Florida did then was knock off Mississippi State and Auburn at home, about as unimpressive a pairing of home wins as a team can record in the 2015-16 SEC.
Yet, for all the frustration that one sees about the Gators and their rocky play, there's one truth that isn't spoken much about this team: It is, despite its maddening February, solidly in line to make the 2016 NCAA Tournament, and it would be a surprise if the Gators missed out on March Madness.
It's tempting to look only at a couple of bits of bracketology per week, given the glut of projections that currently exists. Jerry Palm has Florida down to a No. 10 seed in his latest CBS bracket after the Gators' loss to South Carolina on Saturday, and Joe Lunardi's latest ESPN bracket puts Florida on the No. 8 line, trending downward ... while friend of the blog Chris Dobbertean has Florida trending upward to a No. 8 seed in his latest SB Nation bracket.
The point, here, is that you can get a different picture from any individual bracket. But it's maybe wisest and most helpful to look at things from the eagle's vantage, which is where the indispensable Bracket Matrix. The site, a labor of love for its semi-anonymous creator, aggregates dozens of brackets each year to build a consensus of where teams sit.
Florida, at this moment, sits as the top No. 9 seed per Bracket Matrix, with an average seed of 8.73 — just behind Colorado and just ahead of Pittsburgh, which may amuse you given that those two teams played for the right to be Florida's second-round foe in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
More importantly, though: The Gators appear on literally every bracket that comprises the Bracket Matrix. On all 99 that the site is tracking, Florida is an NCAA Tournament team. If that's not evidence of a consensus that Florida is expected to be an NCAA Tournament team, I don't know what would constitute it.
The Gators are the lowest-ranked team to be so included, to be fair, and just scrape by as a No. 11 seed on eight of those brackets. But these aren't lamentably outdated projections: Every one of those brackets was updated since at least last Friday, February 19, and the lion's share were updated on Monday, February 22.
They factor in Florida losing at South Carolina. They see the Gators' recent struggles. And they're aware of all of Florida's flaws. Still, they have little issue giving the Gators dancing shoes.
This is, perhaps, a surprise to some fans, who might be getting their bracketology from a less reliable source, or not at all. (Bracket Matrix groups bracketologists in tiers: Lunardi and Dobbertean each make Tier 1, for reliably above-average scrying, while Palm sits in Tier 3, reliably below average.)
And Florida still has some work to do, sure: "No 17-10 team with five games left is 'in,'" Chris Harry declared on Sunday, in response to a tweet noting that the Gators were "in," but stuck in the range from No. 7 to No. 11 seeds. It's true that if the Gators go 1-3 or 0-4 to finish their regular season, they will need a strong SEC Tournament to stay firmly within the NCAA Tournament field.
But this Florida team has basically been a little bit worse on a per-possession basis and a little bit better at picking and choosing moments to be good than last year's team, with very similar personnel, in the first year of relatively new system and under an entirely new coaching staff.
Last year's team was thought of as a preseason top-10 team and coached by a future Basketball Hall of Famer. This year's team was not ranked before the season, has never been ranked during the season, and is coached by a guy Twitter tries to fire at every other halftime.
One of those teams dramatically failed to meet national expectations. The other is arguably either meeting or slightly exceeding them.
It would be okay, I think, to judge Mike White and these Gators by their play and their standing, rather than the specter of Billy Donovan and his nearly peerless program.
But Florida is in a far better spot this year than one year ago.