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Gators say SEC proves it is better than some believed

Florida coach Billy Donovan believes that too many people wrote off the SEC based on struggles early in the season.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Florida coach Billy Donovan believes that too many people wrote off the SEC based on struggles early in the season.

GAINESVILLE — It's hard to mock Southeastern Conference basketball right now.

Panned for early season losses and relatively weak non-conference schedules, the league has three teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee — the only SEC squads to make the 68-team field — all advanced to the Sweet 16 over the weekend, giving the SEC a 7-0 mark in college basketball's premier event.

"I'm sure some people are pretty surprised at three SEC teams, because all I heard all year was that the SEC was in a down year and it was a weak SEC," Florida G Scottie Wilbekin said Monday. "It's pretty cool to see three SEC teams in the Sweet 16."

The Gators (34-2), the tournament's overall top seed, will play fourth-seeded UCLA in the South Region on Thursday night in Memphis. No. 8 seed Kentucky (26-10), which handed Wichita State its only loss of the season Sunday, advanced to face fourth-seeded Louisville on Friday night in the Midwest Region. No. 11 Tennessee (24-12), which already has three tournament wins since opening play in the First Four, will join the Wildcats in Indianapolis and play Michigan.

The Pac-12 and the Big Ten are the only others to land three teams in the Sweet 16. Both leagues were ranked in the top three in conference RPI.

The SEC, meanwhile, ranked seventh, just ahead of the American Athletic Conference.

Florida coach Billy Donovan blamed early season struggles for the widespread perception that the league was down.

"It's very, very unfair to pin a league based on what happens in November and December," Donovan said. "In a lot of ways, maybe some of the losses that our league took in November and December prepared them to be better in our league. I think our league can play with any league in the country.

"But I would say this: Just because certain league teams get knocked out early doesn't mean the league is overrated. And because a league really, really advances in the tournament doesn't mean the league is great."

COACH REWARDED: Dayton coach Archie Miller received a contract extension through 2018-19. Negotiations began in December and the extension was signed in February, but Miller asked that it not be announced to avoid distractions during the regular season. Financial terms were not disclosed. Dayton is in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years in Miller's third season.

SORRY, AGGIES: New Mexico State athletic director McKinley Boston said the NCAA apologized for making the Aggies fly home immediately after their second-round tournament loss and for inadequate bus transportation from the airport. NMSU and San Diego State were told before Thursday's game in Spokane that the loser would have to fly home that night.

RATINGS: CBS Sports and Turner Sports said viewership of the NCAA Tournament is the highest since 1993. The first weekend of the tournament averaged 9.227 million total viewers, up 4 percent from the same weekend last year, according to Nielsen. The 5.9 rating averaged in U.S. households through the first six days is the highest number since the 5.9 scored in 1998.

Gators say SEC proves it is better than some believed 03/24/14 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 10:39pm]
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