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Friday, January 21, 2022

Wow.

I had looked down and thought I needed to have my hearing checked, and I’m pretty sure you had a similar reaction.

Did I just hear “Florida” on the TV?

I flipped back 30 seconds on my DVR and thought maybe I needed to have my eyes checked, too.

The team everyone had pegged not to be in the field of 65 made it. CBS later revealed Florida was the fourth-to-last at-large pick.

The Gators didn’t have to sweat too long as they watched the selection special Sunday, getting picked as the No. 10 seed in the second region announced.

UF will face seventh-seeded BYU on Thursday with a possible second-round matchup against No. 2 seed Kansas State.

Not that BYU will be an easy upset.

All five of the Cougars’ losses came against teams in the NCAA Tournament field. They lead the Mountain West in scoring (83 ppg) and three-point shooting (42 percent).

BYU guard Jimmer Fredette averages more than 20 points per game and shoots better than 45 percent from the field and from three-point range.

But today, you should remember waking up on the right side of the bubble and be a little more grateful Billy Donovan stuck around in Gainesville.

This season may have been one of Donovan’s best coaching performances. 

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That may sound strange considering his back-to-back national titles a few years back, but those squads were some of the best college teams ever. I find it more impressive when coaches get more out of less.

I wouldn’t say Florida overachieved, because this program should expect to compete for a NCAA Tournament bid every year. But it wasn’t easy with this bad of a shooting team.

While there are still some eyebrow-raising moves — Dan Werner playing in crunch time and an improved Ray Shipman seemingly not getting enough minutes — the longest-tenured Southeastern Conference coach took a team of basically five guys to the Big Dance.

And he may have clinched this bid back in November with back-to-back wins over Florida State and Michigan State. The selection committee looks at a team’s whole body of work, and UF is sure glad that is the criteria after losing four of its last five.

Donovan found a way to keep his players in nearly every game down the stretch. UF’s biggest losing margin was 12-point losses to No. 1 seeds Syracuse and Kentucky and No. 6 seed Xavier.

But the best thing about the NCAA Tournament is the clean slate. Win six games and you’re the champ.

If Florida finds some consistent scoring late in the games, it could be a force and make an unbelievable journey to the Sweet 16.

Would I count on it after UF’s first 33 games? Absolutely not, but stranger things have happened, and they do call it March Madness for a reason.

The most important part is getting to the dance, and finally Florida has gotten an invitation.

Sometimes it’s better as a surprise.

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