The Florida Gators would probably make the NCAA Tournament if Selection Sunday were today.
That’s conventional wisdom not just among those watching the Gators in the national college basketball punditry, but among those doing the work of putting together mock brackets. The indispensable Bracket Matrix, which compiles dozens of publicly posted brackets to create a sort of consensus of the crowd, has Florida as the second-ranked No. 9 seed entering Wednesday, two spots from the No. 8 seed line and three from the No. 10 seed line. None of the bracketers have the Gators higher than a No. 8; only very few of them have them at the No. 11 line.
While the No. 9 seed line is perhaps — perhaps — not where fans who saw a single digit affixed to Florida in the preseason expected the Gators to end up, it is nevertheless still a spot solidly within the field of 68 in the NCAA Tournament, with 10 or more teams between the Gators and the “last four in” categories on most brackets, and perhaps two seed lines between them and the “last four byes” contingent.
That’s good. What comes tonight could be better.
Next Opponent: vs. LSU, February 26
LSU comes to the O’Connell Center this evening on a far lower tier in men’s college basketball than it was on when the Tigers defeated Florida in Baton Rouge back in January. Since then, Will Wade’s team has gone just 5-4, and the Tigers are just 2-4 in their last six games, with the wins coming over Missouri and South Carolina and two of the losses coming to Vanderbilt — which hadn’t won an SEC game for more than a year prior, and hasn’t won one since — and Alabama.
LSU also hasn’t been a very good road team this season, recording just two wins by more than 10 points away from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and six wins away from home overall. (Florida, no band of road warriors in its own right, has four wins of the former flavor and seven road/neutral wins overall.) While the Tigers topped South Carolina in the Palmetto State their last time out, they also struggled with Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Texas on the road during their undefeated start to conference play before ultimately falling at Vandy to begin a three-game road losing streak.
All that said, and LSU still comes to Gainesville as a team that would probably provide a Quadrant I win for Florida. The Tigers are No. 29 in the current NET rankings, just inside the top 30 that a team must be in for opposing teams to claim a win over it as a Q1 triumph, and they stand to recover over their last three games even if they drop this one: That stretch is comprised of home games against Texas A&M and Georgia and a road trip to reeling Arkansas — which LSU is 4-1 against under Wade, its lone loss coming at home.
KenPom odds suggest Florida should win tonight and that LSU will be a big favorite in those home games and a slight underdog at Arkansas. A 2-2 finish probably knocks LSU back to the low 30s in the NET, and turns a Q1 win into a Q2 win. But for now, the Gators can hope that a win over the Bayou Bengals would be in the best category in the sport — and ought to treat tonight’s game like the massive opportunity that is.
The Closest Competition
Florida’s currently cohabitating with St. Mary’s, Indiana, and Virginia on the No. 9 line, and the only one of those teams with a hugely significant midweek game is Indiana, which could pick up a rock-solid Q1 win at Purdue on Thursday. St. Mary’s and Virginia will be looking to avoid bad losses tomorrow at Santa Clara (just barely a Q3 game) and tonight at Virginia Tech (just barely a Q2 game).
Further ahead of and behind the Gators are teams with bigger chances. While Florida may or may not be able to claim a Q1 win over LSU, the Tigers — leading the Bracket Matrix’s No. 8 seed line — can rest assured that tonight’s game will be a Q1 affair for them, and the same is true for No. 10 line leader Rutgers, which travels to Penn State on Wednesday in search of just its second road win on the year.