Gators Face a Tough Task

The benefit of a Thursday bye in the SEC Tournament will give the Gators an extra day of rest, but it also puts them in an interesting dilemma since they don't know their Friday opponent. Florida will play the winner of the Tennessee-Arkansas matchup in the opening round. It presents only a 24-hour period for the coaches to prepare after the game is over on Thursday night.

"It's a hard week because you have a game you're playing but don't know who you're playing until late Thursday," Donovan said. "You have some time to focus on yourself, but we'll also take some concepts from Arkansas and Tennessee, and try to work on those in practice."

That doesn't mean anyone in the Florida program would turn down the bye, though. It gives them an extra day of much needed rest after the physical conference schedule.

"It always helps," Donovan said. "I don't think the first few games effect teams. I think where the impact comes is when teams who play on Thursday make it to Sunday. That's a long grind. That's where the fatigue part catches up to you."

No matter who wins the Thursday night game, the Gators have experienced success against the Friday opponent. Florida beat Tennessee in both meetings this season in two close games. Florida blew out Arkansas in Gainesville in late January, 75-43.

Beating a team three times in one season is often thought to be one of the more difficult things over the course of the year, but Florida will need to do that if Tennessee wins the Thursday game. However, the Gators don't have any preference in which team they play.

"At this time of the year, it doesn't make a difference," Donovan said. "There's a lot of familiarity with the teams in this league. Every game right now adds a new life and new challenge for everybody. Everybody is starting fresh going into Atlanta. You're going to play a good team."

Every team at this point in the season struggles with avoiding the tendency to look ahead. It's no different for Florida. The Gators appear to be locked into a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament at the worst, and some success in Atlanta could find them as a top-three seed. The excitement around the NCAA Tournament is tough to ignore, especially for a program that hasn't been a threat to make a deep run in four years.

"You go in with an understanding that you can't make it to Saturday without taking care of the game Friday," Donovan said. "We'll approach it the same way we have always done. These guys have done a pretty good job of taking on what's in front of them, and the SEC Tournament is in front of us now."

The difference between this SEC Tournament and recent ones for Florida is that the Gators aren't battling for an NCAA Tournament berth. Because of that, Florida will likely run into teams in the SEC Tournament looking for a big win or some even needing to win the entire tournament to get the automatic bid.

It adds an exciting element to conference tournament weekend across the country, and Donovan is refreshed to finally not be a team that is fighting to get in.

"There will be teams that walk into this tournament that feel they have to win some games to build their resume," Donovan said. "Teams will either get tight or tense because they're focusing on the result, and then you have teams that it creates a level of focus and awareness, and they're on the mission as a group.

"Not having the cloud over us is a good thing, but the next question is how important is it for our guys to take one this one-game challenge?"


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