ATLANTA (CBSMiami) – The University of Florida, a likely number one seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, will begin play Friday in the SEC Tournament against the Missouri Tigers.
Florida is looking for an SEC Championship and is trying to get back to the Final Four for the first time since winning its second straight national championship in 2007. Missouri needs a signature victory to help assure it of a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers are now currently on the bubble.
The Gators (29-3) have won 23 straight games since losing to then-Number 12 Connecticut on December 2. Florida’s streak included a perfect run through the SEC Conference schedule, making the Gators the first major-conference team since Indiana in 1976 to finish 18-0 in league play.
While the Gators are focused on the bigger prize, bringing home an SEC Championship for the first time in seven years would be a nice appetizer.
“If we’re playing in Orlando, that’s great,” Gators head coach Billy Donovan said. “But our goal right now would be to try to put three games together and play in a championship game on Sunday.”
Florida hasn’t played since beating then-No. 25 Kentucky 84-65 on Saturday, when it shot 59.6 percent and got 18 points from Patric Young and 15 from Casey Prather. Should the Gators advance to the SEC title game, they’re in for a bit of a quicker turnaround.
Donovan hopes the scheduling will be modified in the future to guarantee teams playing in conference championships on Sunday an NCAA tournament opener the following Friday.
“None of that stuff is obviously ideal. We’ll have to go out there and play (Thursday) regardless,” Donovan said. “That was just something I would say we need to look at. But I think our guys will be excited about playing. Regardless where it is, we’ll have time to get prepared and ready to play.”
Missouri is just lucky to be getting to play Florida after surviving a double-overtime thriller against the Texas A&M Aggies on Thursday. The Tigers were led by Jabari Brown’s 26 points and Earnest Ross chipped in with 24 in the 91-83 victory over Texas A&M.
If the Tigers should somehow spring an upset, it would give Missouri the needed signature win to likely guarantee a berth in the big dance. But, getting an upset of Florida based on the way Missouri played against Texas A&M is not likely.
The Tigers played extremely well in non-conference play, running off a 12-1 record including an 80-71 victory over then-number 18 UCLA on December 7 and have been to five straight NCAA Tournaments. But at just 22-10, the Tigers are squarely on the bubble and may be NIT bound.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to play the number one team in the country and we’re excited about it,” Tigers coach Frank Haith said.
The Gators beat Missouri 68-58 on February 4 in Gainesville. Florida utilized a 43-30 run in the second-half to close out the Tigers after trailing by three at halftime.
Florida and Missouri tip off at 1 p.m.
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