GAINESVILLE -- Tuesday night was a first for me. It was the first time I've covered a Florida men's basketball victory against the Tennessee Volunteers. Exciting times for Gators. Athletics director Jeremy Foley was literally jumping out of seat on press row. He was happy.
The Gators defeated No.19 Tennessee 75-62 at O'Connell Center on Tuesday in a game that improved Florida's hopes of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. There's still work to do. That's my opinion. One more win and Florida slides in the backdoor of the Tournament. Two more regular-season wins would likely guarantee an invitation.
Florida (20-8, 9-4 SEC) is now third in the Southeastern Conference standings with three conference games remaining until the SEC Tournament. With games remaining against Vanderbilt (20-6, 9-3), Georgia (12-13, 4-8) and Kentucky (26-1, 11-1), the Gators can still win the SEC East. Florida is 5-2 in its last seven games and its RPI is 47 and rising.
On Tuesday night, Florida coach Billy Donovan did a nice job of explaining one reason why his program slipped after winning the 2006 and 2007 NCAA Tournaments. He said that no other program in the country has lost so many players to the NBA since 2007. Another reason is that Florida has missed on some recruits. Yet another reason is that Donovan has signed players who didn't develop like he had hoped. Recruiting for college basketball coaches is a gamble. In 2004, Donovan had a royal flush. Since then, Donovan has given a little back to the house.
Despite the dip in personnel, Donovan's teams have remained competitive. On Tuesday, Florida extended its streak of at least 20 wins per season to 12. That's the most in the SEC.