Shortly before the NCAA Tournament bids were announced Sunday night, the Florida Gators were talking more about the importance of trying to shake off the pain of a three-point loss to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament championship than the tourney itself. • They'll have to put the title loss behind them quickly. • The Gators (26-7) earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play No. 14 seed Northwestern State on Friday in the NCAA South Region in Austin, Texas. • "We're excited to be in the NCAA Tournament, and we look forward to a great challenge against Northwestern State on Friday," UF coach Billy Donovan said. • The overall seeding reflected a college basketball season that has been defined by parity, upsets and a revolving door at No. 1. Louisville, which is on a 10-game winning streak and won the Big East tournament championship on Saturday, earned the No. 1 overall seed. The Cardinals will begin play at Rupp Arena. The Big East has the most teams in the tournament with eight.
Indiana, Kansas and Gonzaga were also rewarded with top seeds.
"The one-line was extremely hard," said Mike Bobinski, NCAA men's tournament committee chairman. "There were so many quality teams fighting for those top four spots. It was really hard."
Florida is one of three teams in the state that received invitations to the tournament, joining Miami and Florida Gulf Coast University.
Miami, which won both the ACC regular season and ACC tournament championships for the first time in school history, is a No. 2 seed and will open play Friday in Austin against No. 15 seed Pacific (22-12). The Hoyas and Hurricanes were in line for a No. 1 seed.
"Both are terrific teams," Bobinski said. "It was a very difficult decision."
FGCU will open play Friday against No. 2 seed Georgetown in Philadelphia.
This is Miami's seventh NCAA Tournament appearance and is tied for the highest in program history (1999). It's the third time that Miami is higher than a No. 6 seed. Though Miami is the first ACC team not to receive a top seed after winning both the regular season and the conference tournament, it was rewarded with what many consider a favorable draw in the bracket. Coach Jim Larranaga said the Hurricanes will take things one game at a time.
"We just went through a grueling three-game tournament, and now we're going to begin another tournament," Larranaga said. "One of the things you have to do is sharpen your sword."
The Hurricanes will attempt to win a title with a roster that includes five seniors.
"Experience is a very positive thing for us right now," Larranaga said.
For the Gators, the challenge now becomes both Northwestern State and their own emotions. The three-point loss to Ole Miss was crushing for the Gators, who enter the tournament 2-2 in their past four games.
"We have to (put it behind)," junior center Patric Young said. "It's now one-and-done and if you lose the season's over. So we can't let this linger on and affect us going into the first game of the NCAA Tournament. We have to get prepared for the next opponent."
Northwestern State, the Southland Conference champions, leads the nation in scoring (82.4 points per game) and will attempt to match the Gators with an up-tempo style of play. The Demons have lost to three SEC teams this season — LSU, TAMU and Arkansas — none of which advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Only Florida, Missouri and Ole Miss are in the tournament from the SEC. Kentucky, the defending national champion, did not make the NCAA Tournament field. But while the Gators are intent on moving on, they also don't plan on forgetting, particularly the fact that Sunday's loss was the fourth this season in games decided by five points or fewer. And they believe the adversity will make them a stronger team when NCAA Tournament play begins on Friday.
"We need to remember the situation," senior guard Kenny Boynton said. "We need to remember all of these situations. As a team we've been in every situation possible to prepare us for the tournament. Now we've just got to go out and do it."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]