Not surprisingly, the Gators came out flat Friday night, falling behind 10-0 to start the game and by as much as 19 points in the second half on their way to a 75-69 loss to Mississippi State in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament in Nashville. When your team has as little depth as Florida, winning in back-to-back nights can be difficult this late in the season.
A win would have secured an NCAA Tournament berth. Instead, the Gators find themselves with a long and uncomfortable wait until Sunday night to find out if they will end their two-year NCAA drought. With fellow bubble teams Minnesota, Illinois, Mississippi State, Rhode Island, and Washington still alive in their conference tournaments, making the NCAAs is by no means a sure bet at this point.
Aside from the first 10 minutes of the game, the Gators didn't really play poorly-- they shot 43% from the floor including 38% from three-point range while dominating the boards 33-20-- but the Bulldogs were just too good, shooting 57% for the game and making 10 of 20 three-point attempts.
The starting frontcourt of Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus, and Vernon Macklin that played so well against Auburn Thursday night was held to a collective 18 points on Friday, and only scored three points in the first half. Guard Kenny Boynton led all scorers with 23 points, while Erving Walker also contributed 19 for Florida.
For the Bulldogs, Barry Stewart led with 17 points and all-time NCAA block leader Jarvis Varnado added 15 points and 4 blocked shots. All five Mississippi State starters finished in double digits for scoring.
Mississippi State now advances to play Vanderbilt in the semi-finals-- a game in which the Gators will strongly be pulling for Vandy to win. It seems highly unlikely that the SEC would get more than four teams into the NCAA Tournament, and a Bulldog trip to the SEC Final would be hard for the committee to ignore.
Should the Gators make the NCAAs, they would likely be somewhere around an 11 seed. Being seeded that low isn't necessarily a bad thing, because if they would get past their first-round game (against a five seed in that case) they would have a second round matchup against a possible four seed rather than a one or a two.
First things first, however. Until Sunday night, it's all just speculation.