The Florida men’s basketball team has finally reached its destination.
A tumultuous, inconsistent 2018-19 season has led the Gators to a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they’ll face seventh-seeded Nevada in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday at 6:50 p.m.
Florida earned an at-large bid after compiling a 19-15 record through the regular season and the SEC Tournament, where it was eliminated by eventual winner Auburn.
The Gators can find solace in the fact that they were a team very much on the bubble entering the SEC Tournament. It put just enough quality wins on its resume with tournament victories over Arkansas and LSU to convince the selection committee they were worthy of a No. 10 seed.
But they could potentially face a tough series of opponents in the West Region. At the very least, they’ll take on an experienced Wolfpack team that will present a tremendous challenge with twin forwards Caleb and Cody Martin, who will play in their third March Madness.
Caleb has led Nevada in scoring for the past two seasons (19.2 during the 2018-19 season and 18.9 during 2017-18), while Cody led the team in assists during that span with 5.1 and 4.7 assists per game.
UF has never faced Nevada.
However, it bodes well for the Gators that they have seniors KeVaughn Allen (who leads the team with 12 points per game), Jalen Hudson (nine points per game) and Kevarrius Hayes (who leads the team in blocks with 1.9 per game and rebounds with 6.3), who have experienced the pressure of the NCAA Tournament three times before.
They’ll need that leadership to carry them entering Thursday’s matchup as three-point underdogs against a team that ranked No. 24 in the nation with 81.7 points per game.
Florida certainly has the defense to handle it.
The Gators only allowed 63.6 points per game during the regular season (20th best in Division I and best in the SEC).
They have the experience with coach Mike White, who’s taking his third-straight team to the NCAA Tournament.
And regular season wins over LSU and Ole Miss in overtime show they have the toughness to win tight games should one of their upcoming matchups remain close until the end.
But they’ll have to prove that again starting Thursday against the Wolfpack.
The Gators will likely face No. 2-seed Michigan if they beat Nevada, and they could potentially face tough challengers, such as Florida State (No. 4) and Texas Tech (who eliminated Florida last season), all of whom sit in the West Region, along with No.1-seed Gonzaga.
Florida will need to quickly lace up its dancing shoes and prepare for the challenge ahead. The madness awaits.
Alanis Thames is the online sports editor of the Alligator. Follow her on Twitter @alanisthames and contact her at email@example.com.
Senior guard KeVaughn Allen leads the Gators in scoring with 12 points per game.