The NCAA selection committee is supposed to favor teams that
finish strong when it starts doling out the higher seeds. Using
that standard, Florida had reason to be concerned.
The Gators, ranked No. 1 earlier in the season, headed into
Selection Sunday with three straight losses.
Granted, those defeats were to quality opponents -- Kentucky and
LSU made the 65-team field, Georgia would have if not for academic
misdeeds. Still, Florida seemed likely to get a No. 3 or 4 seed
when the brackets were unveiled.
Surprise, surprise. The Gators (24-7) were granted a second seed
in the South Regional -- and, more important, got the chance to play
the first two rounds in their home state.
They'll open the tournament Friday at St. Petersburg, Fla., with
a relatively easy game against Southland Conference champion Sam
Houston State (23-6). No need to book plane tickets: the St. Pete
Times Forum is only about a two-hour bus ride from the Gainesville
campus, right in the heart of Gator Country.
If Florida gets past Sam Houston State, as expected, it's on to
a second-round matchup with the Michigan State-Colorado winner.
"I wasn't surprised at all,'' coach Billy Donovan said. "A lot
has been made of having three losses. But you've got to give credit
to fact we played Georgia and lost by one. We lose to the best team
in the United States of America (Kentucky) by two. We lose to the
hottest team in our league (LSU) by four.''
Donovan and the NCAA preferred to focus on Florida's victories,
which included Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi State and four other
teams that made the NCAA field.
"We had very good wins against good teams,'' Donovan said.
"You have to look at the whole entire year.''
Jim Livengood, head of the NCAA selection committee,
acknowledged that Florida wasn't hurt much by its last three games.
"You're trying to value the entire body of work,'' he said.
"Florida had a terrific year.''
But not such a terrific finish. The Gators haven't won since a
73-70 victory at Auburn on March 1. Since then, they lost at
Georgia 82-81, fell at home to Kentucky 69-67 in the regular-season
finale, then were upset by LSU 65-61 in the quarterfinals of the
Southeastern Conference tournament.
It will be interesting to see how the youthful Gators respond to
the glare of the tournament spotlight. The team relied heavily on
freshmen Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh and Christian Drejer.
"I know a lot has been made of our last three games,'' Donovan
said. "But I'm really excited about our basketball team.''
Top-seeded Texas (22-6) was a bit of a surprise, too.
The Longhorns finished second in the Big 12 and were ousted in
the quarterfinals of their league tournament. Even so, they were
placed No. 1 in the South over conference foe Kansas, the Big 12
regular-season champion. The Jayhawks were sent out West with a No.
The Longhorns have never been a No. 1, and they've never been
seeded higher than fifth since the field expanded to 64 teams. They
were a No. 6 seed last season, when they reached the round of 16.
"It's part of Texas history,'' guard T.J. Ford said. "It means
a lot. If we don't do anything else, we're going to be in that book
Like Florida, the Longhorns received very favorable treatment
from the selection committee.
They'll open Friday at Birmingham, Ala., against either North
Carolina-Asheville (14-16) or Texas Southern (18-12). The two
lowest seeds in the tournament will meet Tuesday at Dayton, Ohio,
in a play-in game, and the winner will come back just three nights
later against Texas.
If the Longhorns get past the first two rounds, they'll play the
round of 16 at the Alamodome in San Antonio -- just down the road
"It shows the program's come a long way,'' coach Rick Barnes
said. "I like being in a position of people talking about whether
or not you're going to be a 1 or a 2 than whether or not you're
going to make it.''
One other team to keep an eye on in the South: defending
national Maryland (19-9). The sixth-seeded Terrapins open the
tournament Friday against North Carolina-Wilmington (24-6) at
"That's fine with me,'' Maryland coach Gary Williams said.
"You can't complain. You're not going to be a No. 1 seed every
The Terrapins were a top seed in 2002, playing the first two
rounds at the nearby MCI Center in Washington on the way to their
first national title.
This time, they open against a team that hasn't lost since Feb.
12. Maryland, on the other hand, is trying to shake off consecutive
losses to Virginia and North Carolina -- neither of which made the
"There are about 250, 300 teams that are sitting at home
wishing they were in our position,'' forward Tahj Holden said.
"I'll take a sixth seed over not being in the tournament.''