Six games remain in the regular season for the Gators’ men’s basketball team.
Even when it tries to be good, the National Football League is still bad.
Six more opportunities to prove its worth to a committee of people tasked with choosing which 68 of the more than 350 Division I college basketball teams deserve to make the NCAA Tournament.
The idea that Florida still stands a chance of being one of those 68 programs eludes most UF fans. But in their 71-53 takedown of Alabama, a likely tournament team that beat now-No. 5 Kentucky on Jan. 5, the Gators showed that they are still very much in the race for a slot in March Madness.
But what’s it going to take to get there?
Sitting at 14-11 overall with a 6-6 record in the SEC, the situation isn’t great. But despite the questionable record, UF is ranked 40th in the NCAA’s NET rankings. It can thank a schedule that rarely puts it up against poor opponents for that.
Florida played 11 “Quadrant 1” games, tied for the 11th-most in the nation. For those unfamiliar with the NCAA lexicon, that corresponds to games against teams ranked in the top 30 of the NET when the game is at home, teams in the top 50 when its on a neutral court or teams in the top 75 when the game is on the road.
Unfortunately for the Gators, they are 2-9 in these games. Only the Alabama win and a victory over Arkansas on Jan. 9 count as high-quality wins, according to the NCAA’s metrics.
Still, UF has given tournament-caliber teams like Michigan State, Kentucky and Tennessee late-game anxiety. These performances, along with a lack of disastrous losses, leave Florida squarely in the hunt for a tournament berth.
Of the Gators’ six remaining SEC matchups, two — road bouts with Kentucky and LSU — are not likely to go their way. They must win the other four.
That includes beating the Tigers, as well as Missouri and Georgia, when they come to Gainesville. It would also require beating Vanderbilt in Nashville, a feat Florida hasn’t accomplished since 2014.
The Gators could be favored in all of those games, as they’ve already beaten Vandy at home and the Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia. If UF wants to dance come March, they can’t afford to drop these contests.
It’s hard to deny Florida’s improvement in recent wins over Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Alabama, but it may be coming too late in the season. Coach Mike White knows that missing the tournament this year will only turn up the pressure that has mounted over the course of the season.
However, if the Gators can avoid causing further damage to their resume over the final weeks of the season, they should hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
Tyler Nettuno is a sports writer for the Alligator. Follow him on Twitter @TylerNettuno or contact him at [email protected].