The Florida Gators (23-10) are in the big dance for the third straight year and the 12th time in the last 14 years but they got no favors from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Expected by most experts to be no worse than a #5 seed, the Gators dropped all the way to a #7 where they will play #10 seed Virginia (22-9) of the Atlantic Coast Conference in a West Regional Game Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.
Should the Gators get past their first round matchup, they will face the winner of #2 seed Missouri, the Big 12 Conference Tournament champion, and Norfolk State, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion, in the second round on Sunday.
Florida was hurt by four losses in the final five games including a loss to Georgia, which finished the season with a losing record. The win over Alabama, which earned a #9 seed in the Midwest Region, in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and a close (74-71) semifinal loss to Kentucky on Saturday apparently were not enough to overcome the late season slide.
Virginia also had its problems late in the season. The Cavaliers lost three of their last four games including their first round game to North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament. In their final 10 games, the Cavaliers were 4-6. Virginia’s best wins this season were over Michigan, which earned a piece of the Big Ten regular season championship and was a #4 seed, and a regular season win over North Carolina State, which made the tournament as a #11 seed.
The Gators actually match up favorably with the Cavaliers in terms of size. Virginia goes 6-8, 6-6 and 6-5 up front while the Gators will be 6-10 (Erik Murphy), 6-9 (Patric Young) and (6-3) Bradley Beal. As a team Virginia averages 63 points per game, shoots 46 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from the 3-point line.
The Cavaliers’ best player is senior forward Mike Scott (6-8, 237), who averaged 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Scott had nine 20-plus scoring games and two 30-plus games with a high of 35 against Maryland. He had 15 rebounds in a game against South Carolina State earlier in the year.
The only other Cavalier who scores in double figures is 6-6 shooting guard Joe Harris, who averaged 11.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
The rest of the starters are 6-1 guard Sammy Zeglinski (8.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists), 5-11 point guard Jontel Evans (7.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists) and 6-5 freshman forward Malcolm Brogdon (6.7 points, 2.8 rebounds).
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The Southeastern Conference sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament including the overall #1 seed in Kentucky, which will be in the South Region. Vanderbilt, which beat Kentucky in the championship game of the SEC Tournament, is a #5 seed in the East, while Alabama is a #9 in the Midwest.
Kentucky will open the tournament on Thursday in Louisville against the first four play-in winner of Western Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State.
Vanderbilt will face #12 seed Harvard in Albuquerque on Thursday while Alabama will face #8 Creighton in Greensboro on Thursday.