On February 2, the Florida Gators defeated the Ole Miss Rebels to improve to 18-2 (8-0 SEC) on the season. The orange and blue would rise to No. 2 in the polls and hold that position for, well, not very long at all. Three days after beating Ole Miss, Florida fell to the Arkansas Razorbacks in an 11-point loss that felt much worse than even that double-digit margin. Three big wins followed, putting the Gators in the driver’s seat for a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. A 1-2 record over the last three with losses to two unranked opponents puts that in danger.
On Saturday, Florida has a chance to prove itself once again. One of the nation’s better teams when healthy and playing up to their talents and abilities, the Gators host an Alabama Crimson Tide team that is eyeing a tournament appearance as well. Florida is in, but Bama may not be. A win over the Gators will go a long way for the Tide, but a big win for Florida is just as important.
Junior forward Will Yeguete and freshman guard Michael Frazier II return for the Gators, giving Florida a full lineup. It’s not clear exactly how much either Yeguete or Frazier can or will contribute, but having them available is a plus for a team that was extremely limited in the recent loss to the Tennessee Volunteers. If Yeguete is healthy enough to earn quality minutes, he brings an intensity the Gators need down low. And Frazier has been used substantially more than his freshmen classmates, providing a spark off of the bench. With the two healthy, Florida gets back more than 40 minutes, 12.4 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game.
The latest of Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology (updated on March 1) has 22-5 (12-3 SEC) Florida as a No. 3 seed in the East Region. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it appears to be a very winnable region. But we know that’s not how it will shake up in the end and the Gators want and feel they deserve a higher seed. 19-9 (11-4 SEC) Alabama is on the outside looking in and not many are convinced they have the resume to be selected. A win over the No. 8/6 Gators will go a long way for the Tide. Closing out the regular season with three strong wins will go a long way for Florida. Both teams need victories and because of an increased level of intensity the Tide will surely bring, the Gators must play a full 40 minutes.
Florida won the 2006 NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed, but the Gators would like to go into this year’s tourney higher up the ladder. It’s very possible, Florida just needs to prove it over the next couple of weeks.