GAINESVILLE -- How many more games does the Florida men's basketball team need to win to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament? I'm predicting the magic number is five.
Seven games remain of the men's basketball season and Florida (19-5, 6-3) is locked in a four-way tie for first place in the SEC East with Tennessee (15-8, 6-3), South Carolina (17-5, 6-3) and Kentucky (17-7, 6-3). On Monday, ESPN projected five teams from the SEC to make the NCAA Tournament: the four teams currently tied for first in the East and LSU (20-4, 8-1) from the SEC West. Nothing is guaranteed, however, and I expect Florida needs five more regular-season wins to insure a place in the NCAA Tournament. It will not be easy.
Florida plays at Georgia on Saturday and hosts Alabama and Vanderbilt next week. The Gators should win these three games. Georgia hasn't won a game since December and Alabama is 3-6 in the league and playing without guard Ronald Steele, who quit the team. Vanderbilt lost to Florida 94-69 at home on Jan.25.
Assuming Florida defeats Georgia, Alabama and Vanderbilt, that leaves the Gators needing two wins with four difficult contests remaining: at LSU (Feb.24), Tennessee at home (March 1), at Mississippi State (March 4) and Kentucky at home (March 7).
In case anyone was wondering, Florida's RPI, according to realtimeRPI.com, is 36. The Gators are 1-3 against teams with an RPI in the top 30 and 5-5 against teams with an RPI in the top 100. It's not exactly a strong resume.
Florida's best non-conference win came way back on Nov.25 with an 86-84 victory against Washington. Washington currently has an RPI of 19. Syracuse, which currently has an RPI of 22, defeated Florida 89-83. Florida State (RPI 20) defeated Florida 57-55. Tennessee (RPI 24) defeated Florida 79-63.