2014 SEC Tournament Contenders: Florida

Rob Foldy

The Gators are the undefeated regular season champs, but can they keep it going?

Regular season SEC record: 18-0

Potential opening opponents: Texas A&M (W 69-36) and Missouri (W 68-58)

Chances of winning the tournament: 49.2%

Florida is the first team ever to go 18-0 in SEC play, and that makes it the obvious favorite to win the conference tournament. However, the Gators are not as big a favorite as you might think given that Ken Pomeroy's log5 calculation doesn't give them even a 50% chance to win out.

Part of it, I think, is just due to the way the bracket turned out. There are four SEC teams other than UF who have spent real time in NCAA Tournament contention in February and March, and three of them are on Florida's side of the bracket. I still think the conference is likely to produce just three NCAA Tournament teams, and there's a pretty good chance UF will have to play the other two: either Arkansas or Tennessee in the semifinals and Kentucky in the final.

The other part is that, while Florida has won all of its SEC games, it hasn't won them all convincingly. The Gators needed overtime to beat Arkansas. Six of their nine conference road games were decided by single digits. They easily could have lost a home game against Auburn on February 19 if not for a big meltdown by the Tigers in the final minute. You can find some really impressive finals on their resume—67-41 over Tennessee in January and 84-65 over Kentucky last Saturday pop off of the page—but this team also beat Vanderbilt by just three and couldn't manage to win by double digits over Auburn in two tries.

When a heavy favorite strolls into a conference tournament with its Big Dance seed locked in, it might appear to be ripe for an upset. It also is bound to get the best shot from teams desperate to improve their standing for March Madness, such as the Mizzou team that fell off the bubble last weekend that Florida might play in its first game.

The chances for an outright flop are probably fairly low. Four seniors lead this UF team, and of them, only Patric Young might end up an NBA draft pick (second round, no less). They're not going to be looking ahead to offseason workouts. They're out of chances to make a statement, as this is their final year. They've also never won this thing. They've reached the final twice, losing 70-54 to Kentucky in 2011 and 66-63 to Ole Miss last year. Florida has only won the SEC Tournament three times (2005-07), so pulling off the championship really does mean something there.

This year's team has been one of those where it seems there's always someone who steps up when needed. Perhaps nothing exemplifies that better than the 57-54 win over Vanderbilt on February 25. The starting five made just 13-of-38 (34%), but Dorian Finney-Smith, who had been slumping all month, came off the bench to hit 6-of-11 and score 19 points. Finney-Smith had made just one three pointer in 23 tries in February up to that point, but he hit three of his six in that game. There's always someone. At least, there's always someone until there's not. Just because someone usually steps up, it doesn't mean someone always steps up.

In any event, this team is undefeated in league play for a reason. It's far and away the most complete team in the conference, and it has a future hall of famer as a coach. It's possible that the Gators could lose their first game to Missouri, as the Tigers won't lack for motivation and Billy Donovan teams can struggle against dynamic guards in March, but they're far more likely to cut down the nets.

Bet against this Florida team at your own risk. Doing so hasn't worked out so far.

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