Ladies, gentlemen and PD, the moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. The Gators’ non-conference schedule was a good one and was great to watch. The sweep of the SEC regular season conference schedule was spectacular and winning the SEC tournament was the icing on the cake. Beating Kentucky three times in one season is indeed something special. But, all of that was really just about setting up this stretch of hopefully three weekends.
The brackets are set. The “play-in” games are complete. The so-called experts have embarrassed themselves fawning over a four seed. You have picked your brackets and sent them in to whoever is administering your pool. And you have the Gators winning it all don’t you? All that is left is to figure out where you will be while watching the Big Dance. Some of you are going to the game. Cheer the good guys to victory for those of us who cannot be present.
I will be in Greenville, SC on Thursday. I took great care to pick a hotel right next to a well-known sports bar with a black buffalo on a yellow background. My appointments are scheduled to allow plenty of time for me to get checked into my hotel, change into my Gator gear and park myself precariously on a bar stool for several hours of March Madness. I will watch the weekend games on my flat-screen at the lake.
The Florida Gators are the favorites to win it all if you pay attention to the seeding, or the people voting on the four-letter network or Vegas. But, if this is not your first NCAA tournament, you know that all kinds of things can go wrong. Your shooters can go cold. Their shooters can get hot to the point that anything they throw up from three-point range finds the bottom of the net. The Gators could get into foul trouble. Officials. Yes sir folks, a lot can go wrong and derail a championship.
What I think I can say with some certainly is that the Gators will not get behind and panic. This is as calm and poised a team as I believe I have ever watched play college basketball. They don’t just believe they can win; they seem to know that they are not going to lose. I was near certain that the Gators had given that game against Kentucky away on Sunday. The Gators were just as certain that they had the game right where they wanted it. Perhaps the biggest threat for all teams in the NCAA tournament is the tightness that can set in when you are trailing late in a game and find yourself faced with the very real proposition that your season is about to be suddenly over. Any team that finds itself immune to that added pressure certainly has an advantage in the tournament. This Gator team appears to be immune.
That doesn’t mean that Florida can’t lose. They absolutely can. In fact, odds are good that they will. They are just one of 64 teams still in contention. Many of those teams are very good. Most championship college basketball teams need a little luck to pick their way through the minefield that is the NCAA tournament. Cal-Poly was the only team to make the 68-team field with a losing record at 13-19 coming into Wednesday’s “play-in” game with Texas Southern. Cal-Poly managed to survive and advance. Now they play undefeated Wichita State with a chance to shock the world. Ain’t March Madness fun?
If the seeds hold, which they won’t, Florida would face Albany, Colorado, UCLA and Kansas on their way to the Final Four. There isn’t a team on that list that Florida wouldn’t be favored against on a neutral site. Again, that doesn’t mean the Gators would win all of those games. However, maybe I am way off base here, but I have not felt this good about a Florida team going into the tournament ever, including the 2007 team. I just love this team. They are the epitome of the word “team.” You hear that from time to time but it really does apply here. Regardless of what happens over the next three weekends, I am confident that the Florida Gators will have given it their absolute best shot. And that is really all anyone can ask. Go Gators.