Given precarious position, Gators must do damage in SEC Tournament to solidify NCAA standing

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About a week ago, I produced this thread on twitter, comparing Florida’s basketball team with its fellow so-called bubble teams. The idea was to illustrate that Mike White’s Gators, for all their shortcomings and weaknesses, were in a fairly safe position regarding the NCAA Tournament simply because their competition is weaker.

But that thread doesn’t take one important thing into account: bid thieves. You know. The really bad teams from conferences with at least one team so clearly better than the rest of the conference, that comes out of nowhere to win its conference tournament, steal the autobid that was going to go to said best team in the conference, relegate that other team to an at large bid, and thus shrink the bubble of at large teams down by one.

And I’m not just talking about the obvious ones, like Murray State, who may have swiped one already if Belmont gets in as an at large, or Liberty, who might have stolen another one if Lipscomb gets in as well, because we already know about those. I’m talking about additional bid thieves, like if, say, Illinois pulls off a stunning run and wins the Big Ten Tournament, thus taking the autobid away from a Michigan or a Michigan State who would have gone as an at large anyway, but now forces the Big Ten to receive an extra bid it wasn’t expected to get.

As it stands right now, Florida appears somewhat safe, even after Murray State and Liberty stole their conference’s autobids. The Gators do just fine in the metrics tests; their NET ranking is 33, their Sagarin ranking is 31, their BPI ranking is also 31, and their KenPom ranking is 30. Those are four of the main tools the NCAA Selection Committee uses to create its 68 team field, and while NET is new, those other three numbers are well within the range of what has historically gotten teams in.

But there could certainly be more tickets to the dance stolen away by conference afterthoughts between the Gators’ opening game in Nashville against Arkansas on Thursday afternoon and when the brackets are unveiled Sunday night. Teams that Florida is currently sharing space on the bubble with, such as Temple, Clemson, NC State, Ohio State, Alabama and St. John’s, would then fly off the bubble and out of consideration with the additional slots needed for bid thieves; then the bubble suddenly becomes comprised of teams that we all previously thought were in. So Florida’s competition for one of the last at-large slots would no longer be teams that it compares favorably to, but rather teams such as Oklahoma, Mississippi, Minnesota and Seton Hall- teams that I would be terrified to see the committee have to decide between, knowing full well that those teams have better overall resumes than Florida.

And if Arkansas beats Florida on Thursday- which isn’t exactly a leap, given that the Gators held on for dear life for a 57-51 nail biter in Fayetteville two months ago, and that was without any real contribution from the Hogs’ biggest mismatch advantage in Daniel Gafford- there will be nothing the Gators can do about it.

The flip side of that, of course, is that the Gators do still control their fate, at least to a degree. Florida hasn’t lost that game to Arkansas as of right now, because it hasn’t been played yet, but the team as a whole needs to understand that it has not done enough to unequivocally assure itself a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and play that game against Arkansas like it. But that opening round against the Razorbacks is more of an avoid-a-bad-loss situation than a win-and-you’re-in situation for Florida, because Arkansas is outside of the top 50 in each of the major metrics. While it would help to keep the “bad losses” section of their resume limited to just “Georgia,” in order to really feel safe about their postseason prospects, the Gators will need two wins in Nashville, as that second one would come over the regular season champion and guaranteed top four seed tournament LSU. And to eliminate any doubt whatsoever, they’ll need three and an appearance in the SEC Championship Game.

At this point, White and the Gators have to be perennially cognizant of the likelihood that they’ve exhausted any room for error that they previously had. They obviously cannot control what fellow bubble teams and potential bid thieves do this week, but they can avoid handing the Selection Committee a resume that contains a four game losing streak to end the season, and in turn, add an additional data point or two that helps them.

Let’s see if they can do so, and for once, go out and earn something rather than have it handed to them by their competition’s collective incompetence. Because if any more bids get stolen by conference afterthoughts, that might ultimately be what the Gators need to do to keep their season alive.

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