Anything can happen.
Florida head coach Mike White was sure to make that clear on Monday morning when discussing the upcoming Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The Gators secured the No. 8 seed in the conference tournament with their victory over Missouri on Saturday night. Florida (18-13, 9-9 SEC) will face No. 9 seed Arkansas on Thursday at 1 p.m. in Nashville.
White has coaching experience in conference tournaments, including the SEC, through his career with Jacksonville State, Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech. He knows that around this time of the year — before the Big Dance even starts — there can be madness.
"I’ve been a part of being a one seed that gets knocked out … in the second round," White said on Monday. "I remember Georgia making an unbelievable run a few years back in Atlanta ... The SEC Tournament, there’s a lot of history, a lot of memories for a lot of different people. Anything can happen."
It’s no secret that the Gators need an impressive showing in Nashville to even be considered for an NCAA Tournament berth. Florida lost four of its final five regular-season games and quickly dropped out of the tournament picture.
White keeps up to date with where Florida stands in the national scope and knows the consequences of a poor showing in Nashville, but he is focused solely on the first hurdle: Arkansas.
"I know if we don’t beat Arkansas, our chances decrease for sure," White said.
Sophomore guard Chris Chiozza is excited to get a clean slate in Nashville and a chance to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, but he also said the win-or-go-home concept is scary.
"Coach White said to us the other day in the locker room, ‘sometimes fear is a little bit better motivator than anything else.’ So hopefully we come out a little scared to lose and play to win," Chiozza said. "And hopefully we can win four in four days and get to the (NCAA) Tournament."
Chiozza added, though, that the focus in Nashville won’t just be on how well the Gators have to play to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Florida wants to win four games and take home the SEC title in Nashville.
"It’s fruitless to waste time and energy on any of that," White said, referring to NCAA Tournament hopes. "It takes away from your focus on the Hogs."
Florida’s 82-72 road win on Saturday night over Missouri in its regular-season finale snapped a four-game losing streak. Although the Tigers ended the year at 10-21 and 3-15 in the SEC — worst in the conference — the win was a necessary confidence boost for the Gators heading into the postseason.
"That was huge. We needed that," Chiozza said. "After the game, we felt great, like we just beat a top team in the conference."
The Gators hope to use that momentum to maneuver through the SEC Tournament. Looking at Florida’s resume as of late — an overtime loss to South Carolina and losses to Vanderbilt, LSU and Kentucky — it appears as if the Gators ended the season playing their worst basketball of the year.
But White argued that Florida's final four losses came against four of the conference’s top five teams.
Now, in Nashville, Florida gets another chance to prove itself.
"We’re not apologizing for any of those games. We’re just not one of the best three or four teams in this league. We haven’t been that. We hope to be that moving forward," White said.
"The opportunities are right there in front of us. Again, if we can somehow play well enough to beat the Hogs, we’ll take that next step if it presents itself."