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Florida’s history of in-state NCAA Tournament games is one of wins

Playing close to home has panned out for the Gators.

Pittsburgh v Florida Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Florida Gators getting a No. 4 seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament on Sunday was both expected and a welcome relief.

By virtue of that No. 4 seed, the Gators were eligible to be geographically protected against having to play a virtual road game in their first round matchup — which, granted, isn’t much of a concern when the foe is likely to bring fewer fans to a subregional site.

But it also meant that Florida was likely to be rewarded for a top-four seed with the shortest trip possible to a subregional — and, because Orlando is hosting subregional play for the first time since 2014, that meant the Gators were ticketed for The City Beautiful.

And that is helpful not just for the two-hour bus trip it will allow Florida to make from Gainesville to Orlando later this week, nor for the fan support playing in the heart of Gator Nation’s largest concentrations of supporters and alumni will engender, but because historical fact suggests the Gators generally play much better in Sunshine State games than elsewhere.

In program history, Florida has played 59 NCAA Tournament games, compiling an impressive 42-17 mark in those games. The Gators’ .712 winning percentage is good for fifth all-time, behind Duke, Michigan, North Carolina, and UCLA — and ahead of Kentucky, Kansas, and every other college basketball program. (Florida’s “official” 39-15 mark in games not vacated by the NCAA would bump the Gators up to .722 — tying Florida for second all-time.)

But Florida is especially good in Florida. The Gators are 9-2 in 11 NCAA Tournament games played on home-state courts, and their one loss as a higher seed — to No. 7 seed Michigan State in Tampa in 2003, as a No. 2 seed for the first time ever — came to a significantly underseeded team that would go on to make the Elite Eight. Florida also lost to No. 7 Iowa State — led by Fred Hoiberg — as a No. 10 seed in 1995 in a game played on Florida State’s home court in Tallahassee.

In its early-round wins, Florida has laid waste to its foes in the Sunshine State, especially in early games. The Gators have breezed through subregional play in Florida three times, with six double-digit wins in seven tries and an average margin of victory of 24 points in four first round games.

(In their only Florida-based regional, the 1994 East Regional in Miami, the No. 3 seed Gators took down No. 2 seed Connecticut by nine in overtime, then topped No. 9 seed Boston College by eight to advance to the program’s first Final Four.)

Florida’s performance in early-round games outside the state of Florida isn’t so good, though it has been much better of late.

All four of the Gators’ subregional losses to lower seeds as a No. 3, No. 4, or No. 5 seed from 2001 to 2005 came away from the Sunshine State, and Florida had first-round nailbiters in Salt Lake City in 1988 (No. 6 Florida 62, No. 11 St. John’s 59) and on Long Island in 1994 (No. 3 Florida 64, No. 14 James Madison 62).

Since 2006 — when Florida rolled through its NCAA Tournament subregional in Jacksonville by an average of 24 points per win — the Gators have been much better in subregional play, period, going 12-1 in pre-Sweet Sixteen contests, and falling only as a No. 10 seed against Jimmer Fredette and No. 7 BYU in a double-overtime thriller in 2010. And Florida is 6-0 on Floridian soil in NCAA Tournament games in that span, never winning by fewer than eight points.

Overall, Florida is a very good 33-15 in NCAA Tournament games away from Florida — that .687 winning percentage would be a top-10 mark — and 17-8 in subregional play away from Florida. It’s not as if the Gators have been historically bad in NCAA Tournament play: No matter where they were sent, they generally came to play.

But the Gators go from very good to nearly unbeatable in Florida. And even though history is a guide rather than a guarantee, that’s a promising sign.