The SEC Tournament hasn’t been kind to the Florida Gators in recent years, but they’re going to need it to be this year if they have any hope of going to the big dance.
Just a couple weeks ago, the Gators had won five straight and looked to be cruising right into an NCAA Tournament bid. Then, in a less than optimal turn of events, Florida lost its final three games of the regular season, including one to a ridiculously bad Georgia team.
Now, the Gators enter the conference tournament needing to at least beat Arkansas to feel good about their chances, and a win over LSU in quarterfinals certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Every team goes to Nashville with the same goal in mind and everyone starts on equal ground, giving Florida a clean slate to work with.
“If we were sitting here having won four or five in a row, we’d be talking about riding this momentum,” said head coach Mike White. “It’s easier to talk about the clean slate when you’ve lost three in a row, and that’s what we’re talking about. New opportunities in front of us.”
While the Gators get a fresh start, a few players need to hit the reset button more than others.
KeVaughn Allen appeared to be on the way to having a strong finish to his senior season, but he’s been completely absent for weeks when Florida needed him most. While other guys like Jalen Hudson have started to step up and contribute more, the Gators need production from Allen to be successful.
If he can’t get out of his own head this week, Florida can likely rule out making a run.
“He’s really struggled,” White said. “We all know it. He knows it. We spent a little time yesterday shooting. We’ll do the same thing today. He’s got a clean slate, just like our team does. We haven’t done much since we lost in Rupp. Hopefully we are rejuvenated physically and mentally, him being as important as anyone else.”
While winning an SEC Championship is always the goal, everyone knows what’s really at stake this week. It would be naïve for White to think another tournament is not on his players’ minds going into Thursday’s game.
Andrew Nembhard said on Tuesday that it’s been hard not to think about those things, especially with all the predictions going around on social media. The only way to really avoid it is to totally disconnect, and even then, there will always be distractions coming from somewhere.
White rarely even mentions postseason to his team, but he plans to address it. There’s a fine line between talking about it too much and not talking about it enough.
“These guys are getting noise from a lot of other sources and people,” he said. “And so, I’m just gonna give a quick message today, and they can hear my noise. And that should be regardless of what this bracketologist says or this fan tells you or your classmate or your aunt or uncle. None of that matters because they’re not on the selection committee. Let’s try to play really well against Arkansas. That’s it. That’s all we can focus on.”