After waiting all day for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show and then waiting some more to learn their seeding, the Florida Gators were an anxious bunch on Sunday.
Of course, CBS made them sweat a little more, as other teams with similar resumes continued to be checked off while Florida had yet to be called nearly 30 minutes into the broadcast.
The Gators had to be in, right? They were one missed call away from playing in the SEC Tournament Championship and were really starting to turn things around.
Everyone finally took a breath as Greg Gumbel confirmed Florida was in with just a few spots left to fill. And maybe they deserved to feel a little on edge after the ridiculously inconsistent season they’d had.
Once that logo popped up on the screen, the celebration was on. For about five minutes.
Then, it was back to business.
“We don’t really have any time to celebrate at all,” said senior guard Jalen Hudson. “It’s a quick turnaround. We leave tomorrow in the morning, so if we celebrate we might miss a day, might miss an opportunity to put some work in. Even now, we have today off, but I know everybody’s going to be in the gym trying to get better.”
While the Gators turn all focus to taking on an excellent Nevada squad on Thursday, this team will have plenty to look back on and take pride in when it is all said and done.
At several points, Florida could have easily thrown in the towel. Any chances for making the tournament seemed to be slipping from its grasp.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, things started coming together. The Gators were still far from a great team, but selfishness dissipated and leaders emerged.
“We’re sitting there 12-11,” said head coach Mike White. “I remember telling them after one game, ‘Guys we could potentially, if we don’t clean this up, if we don’t become more connected and obtain a little bit more pride, and so on and so forth, this team can have a losing record. Let’s forget about the NIT.’ We strung together five in a row there, and before you know it, we lost three in a row and we’re back in a similar-type scenario. And then, you go to the SEC Tournament and you play your best basketball of the season. Weird year. Nice to be in the NCAA Tournament, be dancing, and have the opportunity to accomplish something big.”
White wants Florida to believe it is more than a one-and-done or Round of 32 caliber team.
He even had one of his assistants do some research on past 10-seeds that have made long runs to prove to his players that it is very possible. Then, he reminded them of the Loyola-Chicago team that came into Gainesville last season and handed it to Florida before ultimately making it to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.
Despite the rollercoaster ride that was the 2018-19 season, everything still remains in front of the Gators.
“Everyone in this tournament has the same opportunity,” White said. “Regardless of what you’re seeded, we’ve all got a clean slate.”