Gators not surprised by SEC success

Scottie Wilbekin remembers what he heard during conference play. Talk of Florida's perfect conference season was quickly followed by the talk of the Southeastern Conference being down this year. After the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the SEC advanced three teams to the Sweet 16 and showcased a 7-0 record. It didn't surprise any of the Gators.

It also adds more validity to what Florida did this season. The Gators completed an 18-0 record throughout conference play before adding three straight wins in the SEC Tournament to secure a perfect 21-0 record against conference teams this season.

Tennessee snuck into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed but needed a play-in game before beating UMass and Mercer to advance to the Sweet 16. Kentucky got in as a No. 8 seed and beat Kansas State and No. 1 seed Wichita State to advance to the Sweet 16.

"I'm sure some people are pretty surprised at three SEC teams, because all I heard all year was that the SEC was in a down year and it was a weak SEC," Scottie Wilbekin said. "It's pretty cool to see three SEC teams in the Sweet 16. I think it does (validate the conference). The ultimate test comes in the NCAA Tournament. We have three teams in the SEC go this far. I think it says a lot about the conference."

Billy Donovan has been the first to stand up for the SEC during some perceived down years for the league. He'll always talk about the high level of admiration and respect he has for multiple coaches in the league. While Kentucky is the most historic program in the league, it's Donovan's team that leads the nation as the only team with four straight Sweet 16 appearances.

When selection Sunday crept closer and the SEC looked poised to get only three teams in, Donovan vocalized his opinion that Arkansas, Missouri and other conference schools should be considered. The Florida coach believed the perception of the conference came from what happened much earlier in the season.

"When you look at a league, it's very, very unfair to pin a league based on what happens in November and December," Donovan said. "I've always had great respect for our league. I think our league can play with any league in the country. I just get upset when all of a sudden everybody just throws out and makes assumptions or draws conclusions of a league being good or bad based on what's happened in the non conference. That to me is somewhat unfair."

Wilbekin and Will Yeguete talked about Kentucky's success on Sunday, handing undefeated Wichita State its first loss of the season and eliminating them from the tournament. Even if Tennessee's three wins in the NCAA Tournament came with an easy schedule after Duke was upset by Mercer, the strength of their big men in the paint has helped the Volunteers reach the Sweet 16 to join Florida and Kentucky.

"I'm not surprised because Kentucky is a talented team and it's all about matchup," Yeguete said. "Tennessee is a really good team and they really have size with Stokes and Maymon. That's no easy matchup. If you just find a really good matchup in the NCAA tournament, and it only takes one game, and the best team to win in that game advances."

PLAYER NOTES: Wilbekin said his knee "feels fine" after he bruised it when banging knees with a Pittsburgh player late in Saturday's game. His knee had ice on it when he spoke to the media after the game, but he was scheduled to practice on Monday.

Donovan said the Florida trainer hadn't alerted him of any issues with Wilbekin, which would happen if he was in any uncertain situation because of the injury.

"I thought at first it was some cramps because he's had some cramping issues during the course of the year, but there's no issues right now, at least that I've been aware of or made aware of as it relates to him practicing and going forward," Donovan said.

The Florida coach also said that DeVon Walker didn't play against Pittsburgh because there wasn't any foul trouble on the Gators' roster. He is expected to be in the rotation on Thursday against UCLA.

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