When the SEC tournament final ended and the Florida Gators sat in the postgame locker room following a 70-54 loss to Kentucky on Sunday afternoon, the inevitable question was whether the double-digit loss would hurt the Gators' NCAA Tournament seeding.
The Florida players said it shouldn't. So did Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Apparently, the NCAA Selection Committee felt the same.
Florida will begin play in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday as the No. 2 seed in the Southeast Region. The Gators (26-7) will play University of California-Santa Barbara (18-13) Thursday in the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Tampa region includes teams that have won 22 NCAA basketball championships: UCLA (11); Kentucky (seven); Florida (two); and Michigan State (two).
The Florida-UCSB winner will play either No. 7 seed UCLA or No. 10 Michigan State on Saturday for a trip to the Round of 16 in New Orleans.
"We are really excited about being in the NCAA Tournament," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "I'm very happy for our players and our staff for the opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament."
UCSB was an automatic qualifier after stunning top-seeded Long Beach State in the Big West Conference tournament championship game. The Gauchos and Gators have never met.
Top-ranked Ohio State is the overall No. 1 and is in the East Region, joining Kansas (Southwest), Pittsburgh (Southeast) and Duke (West) as top seeds
The Tampa region will also include No. 4 seed Kentucky vs. No. 13 Princeton and No. 5 seed West Virginia, which will play the winner of the Alabama-Birmingham-Clemson first-round game.
Several television analysts questioned the Gators' selection as a No. 2 seed.
"Florida is the most over-seeded team in the tournament," ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb said. "They lost (Sunday). They didn't beat anybody in the non-conference, yet somehow they are a 2 seed, and Texas (a No. 4 seed) that played a far superior schedule and won more road games, that seed stinks."
Analyst Dick Vitale questioned the wisdom of a No. 2 seed when Kentucky is a No. 4. But NCAA Selection Committee chairman Gene Smith said the decision wasn't controversial at all.
"Florida is an outstanding basketball team, well-coached," Smith said during a national teleconference Sunday night. "They played a very good overall schedule and had some quality wins. So when you stack them up against the teams in the top quadrant as we call it, they rose to the top. And we felt like they deserved to be a No. 2 seed. They had a strong strength of schedule — overall No. 4. Their non-conference strength of schedule was No. 7. So we felt they deserved to be at the top of the seed list. And the No. 2 seed is a very strong seed."
Smith said critics are placing too much weight on the final weekend and conference tournaments. He called the regular season "the gauntlet" and said the selection committee looks at the full body of work for all teams, with no greater emphasis placed on the tournaments, including Florida's loss to Kentucky.
"It's just one game, just one game that's added to the entire resume," Smith said. "They lost to Kentucky, but they beat Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt (again) prior to that. And Alabama prior to that. So they had a nice run. We don't get into putting that level of emphasis (on the tournament games) that a lot of people think we do."
In a year when many have argued that college basketball overall is down, 13 teams in the field have at least 11 losses, the most since 1985.
The last time Florida played an NCAA Tournament game in Tampa, the Gators lost 68-46 in the second round to Michigan State. On Sunday, the players said they hope playing in Tampa will carry a homecourt advantage, but they realize they'll need to also play well to advance.
"Definitely (it's a positive), but playing good teams at this stage, it doesn't matter if you are home or not it's going to be tough regardless," junior guard Erving Walker said.
"Tampa will be nice," senior forward Chandler Parsons added. "The closer, the better."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No. 10 Michigan State
2 titles (1979, 2000)
No. 4 Kentucky
7 titles (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998)
No. 7 UCLA
11 titles (1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1995)
2 No. 2 Florida Won back-to-back national titles in 2006 2007 under Billy Donovan.