Gators Blueprint For NCAA Bid

Maintaining the Florida Gators status among the nation's elite basketball programs requires the Gators make the NCAA Tournament an annual event. And they've done that for the past nine years, reaching the pinnacle of college basketball with consecutive NCAA titles.

This year that string was sure to be at risk with a thin nine-man roster that included five freshmen and three sophomores. Yet with a dozen games to go before the SEC Tournament, Florida is doing an excellent job putting itself in position to be part of the field of 65.

As of Monday morning, Florida's RPI stood at 70. That's not a great number, but it's one that should continue to go up. Every remaining Gator opponent has a higher RPI than Florida's current strength of schedule ranking of No. 213. That's important because not many teams can count on improving its overall strength of schedule every game from here on in regardless of the outcomes of their games. Florida's 16-3 record has the Gators on the verge of their tenth straight 20-win season, and a 3-1 mark in the SEC positions the Gators well for the top half of the SEC as well.

Thus it's clear what Florida needs to do to secure that NCAA opportunity.

Break Even --- Coming into the SEC portion of the schedule I felt 8-8 would be enough to get the Gators a bid, and I still feel that way. But with a 3-1 start there's no reason not to aim for a winning record in league play. A 6-6 finish to the SEC slate would leave Florida 9-7 in the SEC and 22-9 overall heading to Atlanta.

Defend the Dome --- It's amazing, but the Gators don't "need" another SEC road win. At least they don't right now. If Florida simply defends its home court, they'll get to the nine-win mark in the SEC. Not that it'll be easy. Sweeping the home schedule would mean upsets of Tennessee (RPI No. 1) and Vanderbilt (RPI No. 10). It would also mean winning against Mississippi State which might well be the battle for No. 5 in the SEC pecking order.

Stay Healthy --- A nine man team means any injury would be very significant. An injury to any of the guards or Marreese Speights would be devastating. There was a reason for the collective gasp when Jai Lucas was grabbing his knee in pain Saturday night. Florida just doesn't have any options should a key player go down. So staying healthy is huge.

Stay Humble --- It would be easy and understandable for this group of youngsters to get pretty full of themselves what with a 16-3 record. But the Gators have an RPI of 70 for a reason. The Gators have not faced very many good teams and they've pretty much broken even against them. Florida is 2-3 against teams in the top 100 according to the RPI on kenpom.com. They need to earn more quality wins and stay humble until they do so. Now if they get to the mid point of the SEC race with only one conference loss then they deserve to get cocky.

Seize Opportunities --- While the Gators don't "need" any more SEC road wins, they should be able to grab some more. A good opportunity comes Wednesday against a South Carolina team that just found out its coach is retiring. Every time you seize an opportunity to grab an extra win somewhere you increase your margin for error.

There you have it. The Gators are in such good shape they don't need to do anything all that special to make it an incredible ten years in a row for 20 wins and NCAA bids. All they gotta do is follow the blueprint.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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