USA TODAY Sports
The Gators can play the role of Santa Claus by underachieving before the Big Dance commences.
Florida clinched the SEC regular season title last night by stomping Vanderbilt 66-40. Kenny Boynton led the team with 15 points on his senior night, and fellow senior Erik Murphy chipped in 10 points and six boards. The vaunted Gator defense held Vandy to just 27% shooting on the night, allowing just on Commodore to reach double digits in points.
Yawn. It would have been a monumental upset for anyone else to win the conference crown. Florida is currently the only ranked team in the league, and it's No. 11 to boot. For much of the season, the Gators were a candidate for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, though recent losses have ruled that possibility out.
The best thing the team can do for the SEC from here on out is actually to keep on losing. The crown jewel in the resume of Missouri, the only other conference squad that appears pretty safe for March, is a win over UF. Tennessee is back in the bubble picture almost exclusively due to its win over the Gators a few weeks ago. Arkansas is about as marginal as a bubble team gets right now, but, you guessed it, they gave Florida its other league loss on the year.
Florida closes out the regular season by going to Rupp Arena on Saturday. If you will allow me to quote ESPN's Bubble Watch section on Kentucky:
The one main advantage the Wildcats have over the rest of the ugly bubble ducklings is their lack of bad losses. ... What has the Wildcats in such shaky position is a criterion more important than bad losses or a lack thereof: Other than a road-averse Missouri team, they simply haven't beaten anyone.
The Wildcats lack a signature win. That is, until a potential victory over the Gators at home this weekend.
The SEC isn't short on bubble teams this year. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Tennessee as the last team in with Alabama, Kentucky, and Ole Miss on the first four out. Arkansas is last on the next four out. In the SEC Tournament, only Missouri and Florida can provide anyone a decent resume boost. Beating the Gators is as good as it gets. How the seeding shakes out will be crucial for several teams' hopes for getting a dance ticket.
During conference tournament time, root for the favorites in the mid-major tournaments if you're a fan of a bubble team. Also, root for Florida not to lose before the Gators face your team. They're the only potential kingmakers, and you want that win on your resume. They're also far and away the best team in the conference. Good luck.