ST. LOUIS — I’m going to start this column with a prediction, one that will most likely come true.
The Florida Gators will be eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by no later than the second round.
This is not a knee-jerk reaction to Florida’s 80-72 loss to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament on Friday, nor is it just a way to rile up fans and create an uproar. I wholeheartedly believe, after watching the Gators play on Friday, that they won’t come close to replicating what last year’s team accomplished.
They’re just too inconsistent. I know it’s a word I throw around a lot when writing basketball articles, but it’s been an ongoing problem throughout the season.
“We got to go back and watch film because this happens a bunch,” forward Keith Stone said.
The Gators no longer have forward Devin Robinson and guard Canyon Barry to provide a steady scoring option, nor do they have the same KeVaughn Allen that averaged 14 points per game last season.
Instead, they have Jalen Hudson, Egor Koulechov and an almost different Allen. When all three fail to score more than a combined 25 points against Arkansas on as big of a stage as the SEC Tournament is, Florida’s not going to go very far in postseason play.
But it’s unfair to place blame solely on those three players when the entire team has been streaky at times.
“Tonight, we took a step backward unfortunately,” UF coach Mike White said. “We got to find a way to...regroup and find our mojo. Get back to playing the way we’ve been playing these last three weeks.”
Just when you think Florida has it all figured out, it has one performance that usually puts it back in a slump. A one-step forward, two-steps backward mentality.
Look at how the Gators played following the Phil Knight Invitational. Their first six games of the season saw Florida basketball at its offensive peak. It was averaging an NCAA-leading 99.5 points per game and had just barely lost to then-No. 1 Duke by three.
The Gators did a complete 180 against FSU. UF’s high-scoring offense was held to just 66 points and lost by double digits to the Seminoles. It kicked off a four-game stretch where the team went 1-3.
Later in the season, following a 6-1 start to SEC play, Florida dropped six contests over a nine-game span, nearly falling out of consideration for the NCAA Tournament.
How did the Gators respond to that? A 72-66 win against co-SEC regular season champion Auburn, a 73-52 spanking over Alabama and an 80-67 drubbing over Kentucky to close out the regular season.
However, with the loss to the Razorbacks, it seems as if Florida is destined to fall back into that cycle of inconsistency.
“It’s never a good feeling to lose,” guard Chris Chiozza said. “Hopefully, this gives us our edge back that we had.”
If that cycle plays out to be true, the Gators won’t get their edge back in time for the tournament. Maybe they’ll earn a win in the first round, but will come out flat in the second.
Sorry Gator fans, don’t expect any Chiozza buzzer-beaters or Elite Eight appearances this time.