Tennessee likely played its way into the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. For rival Florida, its Tournament mindset must begin early, says UF forward Alex Tyus.
GAINESVILLE -- Well, in the end, it was always Tennessee.
The Volunteers clinched at least a share of the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division on Thursday night with a convincing 89-70 victory against South Carolina. Predicted to win the East before the season, the Vols (19-10, 10-5) certainly made things interesting -- at one point losing five times during an eight game stretch -- but when it mattered most, they did what good teams do: Played like a champion.
Meanwhile, the Florida Gators are still trying to find that elusive late-season team chemistry. UF (21-9, 8-7) has lost three consecutive games and five of its last seven.
Florida ends its season on Saturday with a 2 p.m. home game against Kentucky (19-11, 8-7), which is threatening Florida for the league's Flop Award. [PICTURED, Flop Award, presented to Satuday's loser!] Kentucky is 3-7 in its last 10 games and most recently lost to Georgia at Rupp Arena.
What does all this mean? Well, three things. 1. I'm searching for flip-flop images on Google in the middle of the night. 2. It means the SEC's two traditional powers likely will not receive at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. That's pretty shocking. 3. UF's and Kentucky's season finale should be an extremely competitive match-up.
On Thursday, Florida forward Alex Tyus put a positive spin on the Gators' postseason outlook. Tyus, by the way, is playing the best basketball of his career despite playing out of position. Forced to match-up with opponents' biggest players because the Gators' have no other option, Tyus is averaging 12.4 points per game.
"It's exciting, just thinking that basically our NCAA Tournament is starting now," Tyus said.
Well, not exactly. But a win on Saturday is the Gators' final chance to carry some positive momentum into the SEC Tournament. Florida will play on Thursday in Tampa at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"All of us are thinking right now there's a bigger sense of urgency," Tyus said. "We have a sense of urgency that we're going to be right back where we started last year if we continue to not play 40 minutes a game."
Looking past Kentucky (never thought I'd write that), the SEC Tournament will be more unpredictable than the Palmetto at rush hour (Miami reference). After this bizarre regular season, would anyone really be surprised if Georgia won it? Why not? The Bulldogs won it last year and have conference wins against Florida and Kentucky. What about Auburn? Why not Mississippi State? Why not Florida, playing in its home state?
[PICTURED, Shoes on the Palmetto!]
"It's possible," said Florida guard Walter Hodge, who plays his final home game on Saturday. "Georgia did it last year, so why can't we do it? It's going to be a war. I told these guys that we have to be ready and on edge to win that tournament."
Only one thing is certain. A tornado will not hit the St. Pete Times Forum.