For most teams of decent caliber, the SEC Tournament ultimately means nothing.
Kentucky knows they’re going to the NCAA Tournament. They have essentially locked up the right to play their first two rounds in their backyard of Indianapolis, and they are all but guaranteed to be a top three seed. They can lose their first game and still be assured of that, so they don’t appear to be particularly motivated to win it. (At least not on the surface.)
Arkansas and South Carolina also know they’re getting into the Big Dance, as both teams are currently sitting around the 9-10 line in most projections. Should either get hot and make a run to the SEC Tournament title, the best they could hope for in terms of seeding is to move up to a 7 or 8, which when you think about it makes no difference; they’ll still play the same mediocre, slightly-off-the-bubble-but-by-no-means-elite type of team in the first round, and then draw one of the game’s Goliaths in the round of 32 if they win.
But Florida is different. Florida needs to win this tournament crown for more reasons than one.
Many believe the Gators would be better served by making a quick exit from Nashville so they can rest their players. History does not back that up, however; Florida’s two national titles and last three Final Four runs came after winning the SEC Tournament. What’s more, Florida seemed to be peaking not too long ago with a nine game win streak and looked like the prototypical March-built team, but now they’ve suddenly lost two of their last three after blowing a 12 point lead in each. And now it’s fair to wonder if this team peaked too early.
A run through the SEC Tournament would do wonders for this team’s confidence, too. Remember, sans Kasey Hill this team has precisely zero meaningful experience in March, so a run to the conference tournament crown might be just the tonic for a team that’s trending down. That’s not to say Mike White can’t work on some things in Nashville, such as moving the ball around and working the shot clock in order to find a high percentage shot, or emphasizing crashing the glass, in order to better prepare the team for the Big Dance. But if Florida does that, then they should win, because failure to do those things were what cost them against Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
And let’s face it, this team needs a spark after those two aforementioned losses. The Gators seemed as logical a national champion pick as any after their complete and utter beatdown of Kentucky in Gainesville, and remained as such even after John Egbunu tore his ACL against Auburn. But blowing those leads have reduced this team from a trendy Final Four pick to a potential first round upset victim, and while that’s something that can’t be settled this week, the Gators can significantly decrease those odds by taking home a trophy this week.
For better or worse, this team will ultimately write its legacy next week and beyond. But for a team that’s hurting right now, etching their names in history as tournament champions could be the prelude to some March magic.