The debate raged all week long whether or not the Florida Gators would be a number one seed. When all was said and done, Florida is not only a number one seed, the Orange and Blue earned the # 1 spot in the entire field of 65.
Florida’s dominating sweep of the SEC Tournament showed that the 2006 champions are back and ready to defend. The Gators displayed all of their assets; skill, speed, tenacity, explosiveness and great defense in overwhelming Arkansas on Sunday and Georgia and Ole Miss before that. As a result Florida has a favorable draw from which to launch its title defense, though no one on earth projected the Gators into the Regional in St. Louis.
Looking at the Midwest Regional
There is no such thing as an easy walk through the first four games of the NCAA Tournament, but the Gators can’t complain about their draw. The number two seed, Wisconsin is a team I don’t think would have any chance to beat Florida and three seed; Oregon has a history of underperforming come tournament time.
Still, the Gators do face a talented though under-achieving team in the second round, assuming Arizona knocks off Purdue. The Wildcats are a team many thought would be a whole lot better. In fact, ‘Zona was pre-season number nine in the Blue Ribbon Yearbook. That game looks more dangerous to me than the third and fourth round projected opponents would be. Maryland is seeded to be Florida’s third round opponent, and certainly they are capable, but not scary.
The main thing for the Gators is that they avoided being in the same regional with Georgetown, Texas A&M and Texas… three teams I think would have been much more difficult match ups.
Assessing the Rest of the Field
I don’t think there’s any argument the East Regional is the toughest in this year’s tournament. Georgetown is the # 2 seed behind North Carolina and the Hoyas are playing about as well as anyone right now. And, with the Regional in greater New York City the Hoyas would likely have a home crowd advantage over Carolina should they meet in the Regional finals.
The Regional also features far and away the best four seed in Texas and possibly the best three seed, Washington State. Add in capable teams like Vanderbilt (#6) and Marquette (#8) and the committee did not do the Tar Heels any favors.
The South Regional overall is solid with Ohio State, Memphis, Texas A&M and Virginia as the top four seeds. Add in Tennessee and Louisville at five and six and this Regional looks much tougher than what the Gators are facing.
Out West you have Kansas and UCLA up top, but Pittsburgh is maybe the worst # 3 in my adult life. Southern Illinois doesn’t belong at four and Virginia Tech is a weak # 5 and Duke should be an eight or nine, not a # 6. Overall this is the weakest Regional of the four.
Arkansas Sneaks in When No One is Looking
The committee made it clear they thought conference tournament play was important by giving the final spot in the field to the Arkansas Razorbacks. Frankly, they belong in the field, but I was shocked they got invited. The Hogs were a bubble team heading into today’s game with Florida and if you want to get in you should finish strongly. Instead Arkansas got blown out by the Gators and really quit trying in the last ten minutes. That was not a performance that justifies getting that final opportunity.
I know they were tired. And getting into the SEC Tournament Final is a great accomplishment. I just find it hard to believe the committee could ignore today’s blowout, especially considering how tough Arkansas played the Gators in Gainesville.
That said, I love the Razorbacks’ talent and if you want a first round upset, Arkansas over Southern Cal is a pretty darn good one to pick.
Elsewhere for SEC teams, Kentucky (# 8 West Regional) has a tough first rounder with Villanova and if they advance will have to play Kansas. Vandy (# 6 East Regional) will not have it easy against George Washington and would face a very good Washington State team in round two. Tennessee, as I mentioned is # 5 in the South and after taking care of Long Beach State have a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 against Virginia.
Later this week picks for how the SEC teams will do in the first weekend.