The Florida Gators' postseason future could be determined tonight with its game against the Auburn Tigers.
TAMPA -- That headline is pretty corny, right? Sorry, couldn't resist. But that's exactly what today feels like. This is it. Defeat Auburn tonight and Florida moves one step closer to an at-large bid. A loss would likely cement the Gators' spot in the NIT. The same fate likely awaits Auburn with a loss.
Florida's 73-58 victory against Arkansas (READ THE GAME STORY) late Thursday night wasn't a beautiful performance but the Gators' won convincingly nonetheless. Senior guard Walter Hodge, whose career wins record now stands at 115 games, led the Gators with 16 points. Nick Calathes had 11 points but still looked a bit off his game, especially in the first half when he had five turnovers to go along with five points.
[PICTURED, Walter Hodge continues to shine in twilight of his college career.]
Want something positive to take away from Thursday's win? Florida made 15 of 17 free-throw attempts. Pretty good for team that entered the SEC tournament shooting 68.7 percent from the line. Another highlight: Junior forward Dan Werner had a rare double-double. He scored 15 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
Florida will need a better effort from sophomore forward Alex Tyus in tonight's quarterfinal game against Auburn. Tyus had six points and five rebounds on Thursday and was dominated inside by Arkansas center Michael Washington. Washington led the Hogs with 15 points and 18 rebounds. Auburn forward Korvotney Barber (6-7, 225 pounds) is the Tigers' best player and the only player in the SEC to average a double-double (12.8 ppg/11.3 rpg) in conference play.
AUBURN (21-10, 10-6)
COACH: Jeff Lebo (193-137 overall, 78-74 at AU)
STARTERS: G DeWayne Reed (6-1) 13.1 ppg, F Korvotney Barber (6-7) 12.8 ppg, G Tay Waller (6-2) 12.4 ppg, G Rasheem Barrett (6-5) 9.4 ppg, G Quantez Robertson (6-3) 5.1 ppg
RECORDS: 16-3 home, 5-5 away, 8-2 in last 10 games, 4-1 in last five games.
QUALITY WINS: Tennessee (RPI 22) 78-77; Mississippi State (RPI 83) 91-76; Ole Miss (RPI 80) 77-64; LSU (RPI 37) 69-53
THE SKINNY: Auburn is the hottest team in the SEC and came out of nowhere in the final month of the regular season to play its way in NCAA Tournament consideration. The Tigers lost to Mercer at the beginning of the season yet defeated SEC regular-season champ LSU in the final game of the season. Auburn 6-7 senior forward Korvotney Barber had 16 points and 17 rebounds against LSU and was named SEC player of the week. Surrounding Barber are four athletic guards led by 6-1 DeWayne Reed of Houston. Sixth-man Lucas Hargrove is averaging 8.2 ppg.
FLORIDA (23-9, 9-7)
COACH: Billy Donovan (343-144 overall, 308-124 at UF)
STARTERS: F Dan Werner (6-8) 8.7 ppg, F Chandler Parsons (6-9) 9.6 ppg, C Alex Tyus (6-8) 12.4 ppg, G Nick Calathes (6-6) 17.7 ppg, G Walter Hodge (6-0) 9.0 ppg
RECORDS: 16-1 home, 2-7 away, 4-6 in last 10 games, 2-3 in last five games
QUALITY WINS: Washington (RPI 13) 86-84; Ole Miss (80 RPI) 78-68; Auburn (66 RPI) 68-65; Vanderbilt (85 RPI) 94-69, 82-68; South Carolina (49 RPI) 97-93; Kentucky (78 RPI) 60-53
THE SKINNY: The Gators salvaged their season at the 11th hour with its win against Kentucky on last Saturday. After defeating Arkansas on Thursday in the opening round of the SEC Tournament, the Gators must knock off red-hot Auburn, which has won eight of its last nine games. Tonight's match-up is considered by many to be a possible play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. If nothing else, tonight's game is an NCAA Tournament elimination game. The loser is likely headed to the NIT. Florida guard Nick Calathes is one of only two players in the country averaging more than 15 points, five rebounds and six assists but the sophomore has fallen off that pace in his last three games. He scored a season-low five points against Kentucky and had 11 points against Arkansas on Thursday. Calathes had five turnovers in the first half against Arkansas but calmed down in the second half and led UF to victory. The Gators will need a resurgent effort from Calathes to make a prolonged run in the SEC Tournament and reach the NCAA Tournament. Florida's thin bench could pose a problem, especially in the frontcourt. Reserve freshman center Kenny Kadji (6-10) is the Gators' only big man off the bench and he is averaging a mere 13 minutes a game. Kadji played 16 minutes against Arkansas and four points and five rebounds. Freshman forward Allan Chaney (6-8) will be sidelined for tonight's game due to a foot injury. He has a strained ligament in his arch, according to UF coach Billy Donovan.