The metaphor of the dance ticket as it relates to the NCAA Tournament has confused dance tickets and dance cards to the point of unrecognizability. The idea should be simple — you have to have a ticket to be admitted to the Big Dance, and it doesn't get punched until you show up — but it's so muddled that it vexes many who cover the sport.
It's easier to say this about a team like Florida, which takes on Arkansas in a second round matchup at the SEC Tournament at 1 p.m. Eastern (SEC Network or WatchESPN): That team needs to win to participate in the NCAA Tournament.
Sure, it's a bit colorless, but that befits the often pallid play of the Gators of late. Losers of four of their last five games and six of their last nine, Mike White's charges have slipped from being well within the field of 68 to needing a deep SEC Tournament run — and maybe a snipped net on Sunday — to make March Madness.
Arkansas comes into Nashville with even fainter hopes, but the Razorbacks are winners of four of their last five, albeit with only one of the wins coming against a team (LSU) that finished above 10th place in the SEC. That late rally got the Hogs back over .500, with better shooting from distance helping them do so.
Despite an up-and-down season of shooting in conference play, Arkansas is still 11th nationally in three-point percentage, and has shot 40 percent or better from three in 17 games this year. (Florida has done that just seven times.) But the Hogs' best night from range that didn't end in a win came at Florida, as a flurry of late threes only managed to shrink the Gators' margin of victory to four points in an 87-83 win.
Of course, that was also the last time Florida allowed 80 points and won. Since then, the Gators have hemorrhaged threes — six of the Gators' eight worst three-point percentages allowed this season have come in the five weeks after that tilt with Arkansas, and every Florida game since then has featured Florida's foe making at least 36.8 percent of its threes.
When the Gators have been good enough to win despite that leaky showing around the perimeter, it's been because of fine performances by a few offensive players. But with Dorian Finney-Smith standing as Florida's only consistent and healthy performer — thanks to a thumb injury for John Egbunu — it is no lock that the Gators will have enough firepower to withstand another barrage from the Hogs.
And with every game now a must-win if Florida wants to avoid the NIT, the margin for error is as small as it can be.