With two games remaining in the regular season, Florida's nine-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances is in serious trouble. The SEC, on virtue of being the SEC, will probably get at least five teams in the field, and Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State are the virtual locks. Conventional wisdom says that the other spots are going to come from a group made up of Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, and the Gators.
Ole Miss helped themselves greatly Tuesday night by riding 54% second-half shooting to a 81-72 win over Arkansas. The Rebels and Hogs don't play any more interesting competition until the tourney starts in Atlanta next week -- they've got Georgia and Auburn (respectively) on Saturday. Meanwhile in the East, Florida and Kentucky play what may come down to an elimination game on Saturday.
But before then, Florida gets a shot at what would be a major resume-building win against the conference's highest-ranked RPI team, Tennessee. Even though the Gators are relatively inexperienced, freshman Adam Allen knows what this game means:
"We all know what's at stake. We know we've got to win some games to get in the tournament," he said. "Nobody wants to go to the NIT. It's like the champion of the losers if you win that. Everybody wants to play in the NCAA Tournament. ... Any year not in the NCAA Tournament is a bad year for Florida."
Tennessee has a lot at stake, too: they can win the SEC Championship outright, leaving just Ole Miss and Georgia as the only schools not to win a SEC title since the conference went to divisional play in 1992. But to do it tonight in front of a hostile crowd, the Vols will have their hands full. They've got to hope Wayne Chism can keep Marreese Speights in check, that Nick Calathes doesn't show the wizardry he's flashed at times this year, and that the physical play of Dan Werner doesn't get UT flustered as it almost did the first time these two met.
Florida's season wouldn't officially end with a loss tonight, but it would receive an incredible boost with a win. In the end though, I'll agree with The BruceBall Blog's prediction of an up-and-down game that eventually favors the Vols.