The only thing separating the Gators from a date with Tennessee in the SEC Championship game was a blown call by the referees at the end of Florida’s three-point loss to eventual SEC Tournament Champion Auburn. The call, had it been in Florida’s favor, would have given Andrew Nembhard three free throws to potentially tie the game and send it to overtime.
The day before, the Gators upset #9 LSU for the second time this season, and was likely the win that solidified Florida’s spot at a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance under Head Coach Mike White. Three straight tourney bids is the second longest active streak among SEC teams, Kentucky is now at six straight years of dancing in March.
The Opponent: Nevada
The Gators look to continue their hot streak in the underdog role heading into the big dance. The first challenge? The Nevada Wolf Pack. A very tough opponent for the Gators in round one, as Nevada is currently 29-4, senior heavy, and very hungry, especially after losing 69-68 in last years Sweet 16 to Loyola-Chicago.
Nevada is one of the best teams in the country at turning defense into offense. The Wolf Pack posses a 14 point differential between offense and defense compared to Florida’s 4.7. Nevada is led by the trio of Jordan Caroline (17.3ppg, 9.6rpg), and the Martin twins, Caleb (19.2ppg, 5.1rpg) and Cody (11.7ppg, 4.5rpg, 5.1apg), all of whom are NBA prospects.
The Martin twins actually played AAU ball with Florida senior guard Jalen Hudson, who texted his former teammates upon learning of the matchup.
Both teams have a major focus on the defensive end, and both teams have the ability to put the ball in the basket, though Nevada does it much more consistently.
It will be interesting to see which Florida shows up, SEC tournament Gators, or lackadaisical Gators that slept their way to a .500 conference record.
An interesting fact to note is that, since 2013, the ten seeds have won 71% of games against seven seeds in the NCAA tournament. Mike White and company have the perfect opportunity to write a Cinderella story, but the Gators first round game is no cupcake, in fact, once again, Florida will play as the underdog.