GAINESVILLE — It was a long, restless 48 hours for the Florida men's basketball team after its loss in the SEC tournament quarterfinals, but on Sunday night the Gators' roller-coaster season was capped off with an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
No. 10-seeded Florida (21-12) plays seventh-seeded BYU (29-5) on Thursday in the West Region in Oklahoma City.
It is the Gators' first NCAA Tournament appearance since winning the national title in 2007.
"We're very, very excited, and grateful for the opportunity," coach Billy Donovan said. "I'm most excited for our players having a chance to experience this. For most of them this is something they haven't been through yet. They've worked so hard from Day 1, and it's great to see them rewarded."
The selection shocked many analysts and tournament prognosticators. After Houston upset UTEP in the Conference USA tournament championship game Saturday, and Mississippi State and Minnesota advanced to their respective conference tournament finals, it seemed the Gators would be the odd team out.
Florida played a much tougher nonconference schedule this season than it has in the past, but lost six of its last 10 games.
"When the committee gets together and starts to evaluate these teams, and it gets to the point where you start to try to eliminate teams, I think clearly the strength of the nonconference schedule, the willingness to go out and try to play people, and the ability to win some of those games, at the end of the day can differentiate you from the other five or six or two handfuls of teams that may have been under strong consideration for the last couple of spots," CBS analyst Clark Kellogg said. "So surely, I would think that factors in. It certainly would if I was a committee member and I was looking at Florida, Mississippi State and Virginia Tech and Illinois and those teams we felt were in those final discussions for at-large considerations, I would think that had to help Florida.
Now that they're in, the Gators believe they have something to prove.
"It was a stressful 48 hours not knowing it we were in or out," junior forward Chandler Parsons said. "We're really excited to be a part of it. For most of us it's our first experience with the NCAA Tournament. We don't just want to go and play one game. We want to prove we're deserving of being there."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.