Will Gators' Schedule Pay Off?

For the past two years there is little debate that the biggest single reason Florida missed out on the NCAA Tournament was the weakness of Florida's non-conference schedule. That issue combined with a weak SEC last season sent Florida to the NIT.

It also sent all SEC coaches to the whipping shed where Commissioner Mike Slive just about demanded that teams schedule tougher competition outside the league.

Most SEC teams followed that directive, but perhaps no one upgraded their non-conference slate than did the Gators. SEC teams performed well in many of those contests with Tennessee beating Kansas, Ole Miss taking out Kansas State and Florida beating Michigan State just three examples. As a result the SEC is in a much stronger position heading into "Championship Week".

The question now is clear. Will it pay dividends on Selection Sunday? Florida coach Billy Donovan isn't making any predictions.

"I really don't know. I think it's going to be really interesting. When you look at our strength of schedule is think it's somewhere in the mid-thirties. I think playing Michigan State, Xavier, Richmond, at N.C. State and Florida State how much it's helped remains to be seen. A couple of years ago we weren't in a position to beat a Michigan State or a Florida State or go on the road and win some of the games that's we've won. This team has played a much more difficult and probably as difficult a schedule as we've played in quite some time."

Donovan points out that the non-conference success for the Gators and others has the SEC much higher in the pecking order compared to leagues around the country.

"I think our league perception-wise is a lot better than it was last year, where going into the SEC Tournament there were only two teams that were a lock for the NCAA Tournament. I don't know if there's an exact science, but certainly we really loaded up on our schedule competitively and what dividends that pays for us remains to be seen. We have the same league record (9-7) we had last year, but clearly in a league that's much more difficult than the last two years."

Donovan acknowledges there's one wart on the Florida resume.

"The one game that I think you look at as a loss that was disappointing was the South Alabama game. But you look at where Xavier is, where Richmond is, where Vanderbilt is, where Kentucky is where Tennessee is and Michigan State. We were right there and won some of those games where a couple of years ago we didn't win some of them."


Florida has lost 11 games this season and eight of the losses are to teams with top 25 RPI rankings. Two other losses (South Carolina and Georgia) were to teams in the top 100. The Gators are 8-10 against teams in the top 100.


It's probably in the Gators' best interest for South Carolina and Georgia to each get a win in the SEC Tournament to stay in that top 100 category. A win or two for N.C. State in the ACC Tournament could put the Wolfpack (RPI 103) into the top 100 which would also help.


ESPN "Bracketologist" Joe Lunardi still has the Gators as a No. 11 seed in the Big Dance heading into the SEC Tournament. Lunardi has six teams getting in that are in worse shape than Florida, but of course that can all change in the week ahead.

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