Selection Sunday/St. Patrick’s Day/Rob Lowe’s birthday didn’t go the best it possibly could for the Florida basketball team
The Gators were pinched — pun intended — by the Ole Miss Rebels 66-63 in the SEC Tournament final, giving the Gators their seventh loss of the season.
Perhaps more importantly however, Billy Donovan’s team fell to 0-6 in games decided by single digits.
Glancing at my Twitter feed after Sunday’s game, I couldn’t decide what Florida fans were more upset about — Marshall Henderson’s obnoxious taunting, or their own team’s second half breakdown.
I’ll give the slight edge to Florida’s disappearing act.
Whether with a calm, but pessimistic message, or an all-caps profanity laced tirade, more than a few Florida fans let it be known where they stood on this team and consequently, it’s chances in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Spoiler Alert: confidence seems to be waning.
However, a small group doesn’t speak for an entire fan base. And similar to the social media world, a few losses aren’t indicative of what a team can do on the biggest of stages.
Three of Florida’s last four losses came against teams it had previously beaten quite soundly in Gainesville. The other, a loss on the road to a team it hadn’t seen, with the Gators down two players.
Losing games when a team held a sizeable lead and/or was predicted to win hurts. It hurts the team and it hurts the fans. It also hurts perception — something the Gators are acutely aware of.
“The people trying to create this drama like our guys have lost confidence — our guys haven’t lost confidence at all,” Donovan said.
“The ball didn’t go in the basket. That’s part of the game. There’s nothing I can do as a coach or the players can to work on it … did Erik Murphy look scared to shoot the ball today? He went up there strong.”
Despite what’s being said about Florida, senior guard Kenny Boynton said the team’s mental state is sound.
“I think as a team, our confidence is high … we know what we need to get better at,” Boynton said.
A number of players on the Florida roster know all too well the pain of a March letdown, as the past two seasons have seen the Gators blow leads down the stretch, sending them home before they were ready.
Undoubtedly, those Tournament losses have fed into the perception that Florida can’t get it done when the game is on the line.
UF missed out on a chance to become only the second team in school history to win both the SEC regular season and tournament titles on Sunday. However, it wasn’t all bad news for the Gators.
As a No. 3 seed in the South region of the NCAA Tournament, Florida’s path is manageable. Northwestern (Louisiana) State awaits the Gators at 7:27 p.m. on Friday, while the winner of an intriguing UCLA/Minnesota game would be next up on the docket.
Florida has a lot of reasons to be confident heading into the Big Dance, as the Gators have shown at times this season just how good they can be on both ends of the floor. And unlike the tournament they just finished, the NCAAs allow the Gators to face off against teams they haven’t seen before — a potential positive.
Despite an overall poor perception of the SEC, the Gators have the luxury of being a tested team heading into their trip to Austin, Texas.
Since his arrival at Florida, Boynton has been to the NCAA Tournament every year. He knows well the desperate feeling that soaks the air in March.
With one last chance at glory, the senior leader is aware of the stakes.
“I think this whole season has prepared us for this moment,” Boynton said. We all know it’s one and done now.”