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Florida Gators Daily Bracketology: Busy weekend should be about holding steady

Florida has finally clawed its way to the No. 8 line. If the Gators lose, they’ll surely lose that spot, too.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday morning’s edition of the Bracket Matrix finally reflects midweek results enough to have the Florida Gators on the No. 8 line in its composite 2020 NCAA Tournament projection, with Mike White’s squad squeaking past a falling Arizona State for the spot of fourth No. 8 seed out of four.

For the Gators, this weekend will largely be about keeping that positioning, rather than backsliding.

Next Opponent: at Tennessee (NET: 69; KenPom: 69)

For now, a win at Tennessee is a Quadrant I win. The Vols sit just inside the top 75 in NET, the threshold for opponents to provide Q1 road wins, and could probably absorb a loss to Florida — if it isn’t lopsided — and stay there.

But Tennessee is also on a slide — having lost its last two, three of its last four, and seven of 10 since starting 12-6 — and has games against Kentucky and Auburn next week after the Gators leave town. Winning any one of these three games might keep the Vols in the top 75 — and would guarantee them a winning regular-season record — but losing all three sends them to 15-16 on the year, and would make keeping a foothold in the top bracket of NET somewhat difficult.

Fortunately for the Vols, they do play Florida tough in Thompson-Boling Arena, having not dropped a home game to the Gators since 2014 and only lost one other contest to the Gators in Knoxville last decade, in an overtime defeat in 2011. This isn’t a vintage Tennessee squad, with a season-ending injury to Lamonte Turner leaving the Vols without a true point guard until Uruguayan freshman Santiago Vescovi arrived at midseason after reclassifying, poor shooting limiting Jordan Bowden in his senior season, and big man John Fulkerson making more of the leap that many expected from the NBA-bodied Yves Pons.

Consistency has been a real issue for Rick Barnes’s squad over the last two weeks, as the Vols have either failed to score a point per possession or failed to keep their opponents from scoring 1.1 points per possession over each of their last four games.

Still, KenPom suggests a very close contest is in the offing, giving Florida a 51 percent chance of pulling out the road win and projecting a 65-64 score.

The Closest Competition

Florida’s new linemates at the No. 8 level are Illinois, LSU, and Texas Tech; Arizona State and St. Mary’s sit just behind the Gators.

Here’s what all of those teams have on tap this weekend:

  • Illinois (NET/KenPom: 36/29), the top-ranked of the No. 8 seeds at present, won’t play until Sunday, when it hosts an Indiana squad (56/38) that has been all but alternating big wins (the Hoosiers have beaten Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, and Iowa) with lopsided losses (their last five have all come by eight or more points, and by an average of 14 points per contest) in Big Ten play.
  • LSU (33/40) is already playing, facing off with Texas A&M (117/142) in what should be a get-right game. With just under four minutes to play in the first half, LSU led 24-11.
  • Texas Tech (20/19) is also playing, hosting what should be a desperate Texas (64/62) outfit. With just under six minutes to play in the first half, the score was tied at 22.
  • Arizona State (44/56) will look to return to winning ways after having a streak snapped by UCLA in an evening game at USC (45/56) that concludes a weekend swing in Los Angeles for the Sun Devils. With the Trojans hanging on to a spot just barely above the bubble, expect them to fight hard at home.
  • Saint Mary’s (31/35) survived its road trip to Santa Clara on Thursday; its reward for doing so is a date with mighty Gonzaga (3/3) in Spokane, a game that could provide multiple seed lines of boost for the Gaels should they reverse the outcome of their 30-point loss to the ‘Zags back home in Moraga.