NCAA Tournament Basketball: Florida Gators to Tampa

Florida Gators land No. 2 seed – March Madness 2011 dates announced

The Florida Gators might have lost Sunday afternoon to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament championship game, but they sure won big a few hours later.

The NCAA Tournament basketball selection committee awarded the Gators (26-7, 13-3) with a No. 2 seed in the Southeast Region, where they will play their first-round game against No. 15 UC Santa Barbara (18-13, 8-8).

“We are really excited about being in the NCAA Tournament,” Billy Donovan said. “I’m very happy for our players and our staff for the opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament. We look forward to playing in Tampa, and we will have a lot to get prepared for in a short amount of time.”

The Gauchos, Florida’s first-round opponent, won the 2011 NCAA Tournament automatic bid from the Big West, despite finishing just fourth in conference play.

Meanwhile, Florida won the regular season SEC title and advanced to the SEC Tournament championship before falling Sunday to Kentucky.

Florida’s inclusion in the tournament marks the second time in as many years the Gators have made the tournament. Billy Donovan is coaching the Gators in the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in March Madness 2011.

Dates have been set for the first-round games. Florida’s first-round game against UC Santa Barbara will be played on Thursday at 6:50 p.m., while a potential second-round game would be played on Saturday.

Looking ahead, the Southeast Region is dripping with dramatic storylines and matchups for Florida.

If the Gators get past UC Santa Barbara – and they should – a second-round matchup with either No. 7 UCLA (22-10, 13-5) or Michigan State (19-14, 9-9) looms.

Florida has knocked off the UCLA Bruins in the Final Four twice in the past six years en route to back-to-back national championships.

The Gators beat UCLA 73-57 to claim their first national title in 2006. A year later, they knocked off the Bruins 76-66 to earn a second-straight trip to the national title game.

This year’s UCLA squad finished second in the Pac-10 with a 13-5 league record. However, the Bruins lost their first Pac-10 Tournament game to Oregon in the quarterfinals.

On the other end of the second-round matchup sits Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans.

The last time Florida played an NCAA Tournament game in Tampa, the seventh-seeded Spartans steamrolled the second-seeded Gators 68-46.

Michigan State also knocked off Florida 89-76 in the Gators’ first national championship appearance in school history in 2000.

This year’s Spartans team finished sixth in the Big Ten, losing in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals to Penn State.

Looking even further ahead in the bracket, Florida could potentially meet up with No. 3 seed BYU.

Last year, the Cougars topped the Gators in a thrilling double-overtime victory in which BYU star Jimmer Fredette scored 37 points.

In any case, Florida fans should be thrilled with the Gators’ tournament draw.

With a chance to play in Tampa against a weak opponent in their first-round game, the Gators should be able to regain any lost momentum from Sunday’s SEC Tournament championship loss.

Florida is 4-3 in the St. Pete Times Forum since 2000, but has lost its last two there. The Gators went 1-1 there in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.