Florida-Kentucky: Last chance to Dance

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With each loss the Gators suffer on the hardwood, the chances of them going to the NCAA Tournament become worse and worse. And each time Florida loses, Gator Nation throws up their hands and say, “OK, that’s it, THIS loss is the end, NOW they’re officially not going to the NCAA Tournament.”

Tomorrow night, though, is the last chance people will get to say this. Because a loss tomorrow night to Kentucky, and Florida is done. For real.

Obviously, beating the top ranked Kentucky Wildcats is not going to be easy. The last SEC team to beat the Cats was Florida in last year’s SEC Championship Game, and they’ve lost just one game since- the national championship game to UConn. They’ve been on this run mainly because of a suffocating defense that’s allowed exactly one team to score more than 70 points in a game. And that team- Mississippi- took the Wildcats into overtime. The Gators struggle on offense anyway, so this bad offense vs. great defense by itself makes Kentucky a horrible matchup for Florida. Then throw in the fact that Kentucky is far more experienced than Florida- laugh at the lunacy of that statement, but it’s true- and bigger, and faster, and have a much wider array of dependable scoring sources (Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker, to name a few), and that leaves Florida with the lone advantage of playing on their home court. And with losses to Miami, UConn and LSU- not to mention the near disaster against ULM- I’m not so sure just how great of an advantage that is.

But like it or not, this really is Florida’s last chance to be playing meaningful basketball in March, other than winning the SEC Tournament. The Gators have a grand total of one win over a good team- Arkansas- and that has negligible value because they have far more bad losses than quality wins, including FSU, LSU and Vanderbilt. Thanks to blowing chances at what would have been big wins against Kansas, UConn and Miami, the Gators have put themselves in a position where have three choices: beat Kentucky (and then win a good percentage of their remaining games), win the SEC Tournament or end their streak of five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

And yes, beating Kentucky really would have the power to change the Gators’ fortunes. It would give Florida a leg up on literally every other team in college basketball, thanks to Kentucky’s spotless record so far. And it would make the Gators’ RPI and BPI skyrocket; Kentucky is #2 and #1 in the country, respectively; with the Gators’ RPI likely sitting somewhere in the mid-60’s by the time they tip off tomorrow, a win over a team like that would be sure to send them at least into the low 50’s, which is bubble team territory.

Yes, Florida may have seriously damaged their shot at the NCAA Tournament with the loss to Vandy, and fans everywhere may have been so pissed off in the immediate aftermath of that loss that they slammed the door shut on the season and dismissed it. But the fact is that a win over Kentucky- if Florida can get it… and that’s a big if- would open that door right back up. It’s up to Billy Donovan to get his team ready to play 40 full minutes for once on the biggest stage of the year to this point.

Put simply, it’s Florida’s last chance to dance. What will they do with it?