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Breaking down which games Florida must win to make the NCAA Tournament

GAINESVILLE -- The University of Florida men's basketball team had 20 turnovers and made just 10 of 23 free throws on Wednesday night in its 77-71 road loss against South Carolina.

Florida shot 56 percent and out-rebounded South Carolina 41-35 but fell behind in the second half during a scoreless spell that lasted six minutes. Florida is 6-2 since junior forward Chandler Parsons unseated Dan Werner in the starting line-up. Parsons had 13 points, 11 rebounds and six assists on Wednesday in 34 minutes.

A victory on Wednesday would have helped the Gators' chances of reaching its first NCAA Tournament in three seasons, but it wasn't a requirement. Florida (17-7, 6-4) returns home on Saturday for an important non-conference game against Xavier. The Gators have eight games remaining on their schedule. Florida can finish the season 4-4 and likely still make the NCAA Tournament with the right combination of victories.

Going out on a limb here, but I'll predict that Florida can finish its conference schedule with nine wins and still make the NCAA Tournament if it defeats Xavier on Saturday. Anything less than that (an upset at Kentucky notwithstanding) would leave Florida relying on a strong run in the SEC Tournament to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume. Here's UF's remaining schedule along with quick analysis of each game's impact on Florida reaching the NCAA Tournament...

Florida (48 RPI) vs. Xavier (16-7, 8-2, 26 RPI), 6 p.m., Sat.: A win would strengthen Florida's RPI considerably and give the Gators non-conference wins against Florida State, Michigan State, N.C. State and Xavier. That's the makings of a solid NCAA Tournament resume. 

Florida vs. Auburn (154 RPI) , 7 p.m., Feb. 18: This is a must win for the Gators. Auburn's best victory this season came against Virginia on Dec. 12. The Tigers are 0-8 against teams currently in the RPI top 80. 

Florida at Ole Miss (39 RPI), noon, Feb. 20: Here's an interesting game. Ole Miss' has a solid non-conference victory (Ole Miss 86, Kansas State 74) but that game was played way back in November. The Rebels have an easier schedule that Florida to finish the season. Both teams need a victory here against solid conference opponent. This isn't exactly a "must-win game" for Florida but a loss against Ole Miss would definitely make the Gators' home games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt important tests.

Florida vs. Tennessee, 9 p.m., Feb. 23: Florida must go 1-1 against Tennessee and Vanderbilt in its final two home games. 

Florida at Georgia, 4 p.m., Feb. 27: If Florida loses to Ole Miss, then this game becomes much more important.

Florida vs. Vanderbilt, 7 p.m., March 2: Florida must go 1-1 against Tennessee and Vanderbilt in its final two home games. 

Florida at Kentucky, noon, March 7: A win here to finish the season would likely earn Florida a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

March 11-14 SEC Tournament ... Nail-biting scenario: If Florida loses to Xavier and finishes its SEC schedule with eight wins then the Gators will likely have to win two games in Nashville to make the NCAA Tournament ... Comfort-zone scenario: If Florida defeats Xavier and finishes 9-7 in the SEC then the Gators will make the NCAA Tournament. It'll be close, but UF's non-conference wins would be the deciding factors.

-jo-

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