It Looks Like Another Trip to the NIT

The Gator basketball team took a giant step away from the NCAA and towards the NIT with an 80-71 loss to Mississippi State Wednesday night. The loss, the Gators fifth in seven games, leaves the Gators on the outside looking in when it comes to the annual NCAA tournament.

The Gators were in the game in Starkville most of the way, but you never got the sense that they were going to win. And when all was said and done the typical culprits were there to be identified. State joined the long list of teams shooting a high percentage (50%) from long range against Billy Donovan's squad. The Bulldogs also beat the Gators by four on the glass and stood by and watched the Gators miss more than half (6-13) of their free throws.

As has been the case most of the year, the Gators remained a team that was too three-pendant. Florida made just 7-of-25 from long range, and teams that shoot below 30 percent from outside the arc rarely win. Nick Calathes (0-4) and Erving Walker (1-6) were the prime culprits on this occasion.

This has been a strange season, but it continues to mirror last season in almost every way you can think of. The Gators are fading down the stretch just as they did a year ago. They are 21-9, 8-7 just as they were a year ago. Last year the Gators finished with a loss in their regular season finale and in the first round of the SEC tournament.

Any realistic hope of returning to the NCAA now lies with the season finale against Kentucky, and it's hard to be certain of the Wildcats' loss to Georgia was good for the Gators or not. But that doesn't matter. Florida needs at least two more wins to make it into the field of 65. Saturday against Kentucky is an absolute must-win. In fact, you could argue it's the first play-in game of this year's tournament.

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