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One small step on the bracket, one giant leap for Florida's confidence

If that's what over-seeded looks like, then by all means, keep seeding.

It doesn't get much better than what Florida did with its first game in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. The 79-51 win against UC Santa Barbara, which included a 24-point halftime lead (second best of the season after a 25-point cushion against NC A&T in November) should quiet some of the critics who said the Gators didn't deserve to be a No. 2 seed.

UCSB coach Bob Williams was certainly convinced, as he began his postgame press conference by saying, "They're really good. They're really good," and went on to say he thinks UF is better than the second-seeded Ohio State team the Gauchos lost to last year.

Now, it's important to remember that the Gauchos snuck into the Big Dance thanks to a three-game hot streak in the Big West Tournament, becoming the first No. 5 seed to ever win it. But guard Orlando Williams and forward James Nunnally are scoring threats against anyone, so this team wasn't a total joke. The Gators just made them look like one.

A 10-1 run to start the game, a 54 percent shooting night and Chandler Parsons' near triple-double (10 pts, 10 assists, seven rebounds in 27 minutes) were all very positive offensive signs, as was Erving Walker knocking down 4 of 6 threes. And on defense, they harried the Gauchos -- who shot nearly 50 percent in their conference tourney -- into 10 first-half turnovers and just 6-of-22 shooting before the half. By then, the game was all but over, and the lead grew to as high as 34 in the second half.

This was just about the best start UF could have hoped for, and it was especially encouraging to see them get a lead and make it grow rather than fumbling it away and winning late. That's the mark of a good team, and if they can add that component to the verstility and chemistry that's arleady in their lineup, this is a group you don't want to face.

The only negative to me was the crowd. Yes, there were plenty of Florida fans in the St. Pete Times Forum, but there weren't nearly as many as there should have been, and I hope that changes Saturday. Gators fans always want to talk "House of Horrors" and "We're a basketball school too," but I went to that school, covered many hoops games and was there tonight. It ain't no basketball school, and what I saw in Tampa today was not how a basketball school's fans travel to an NCAA Tournament game that's two hours away.

Barring a big second-half comeback, UCLA is next up, and I'll have more on that as we get closer to Round 2 (I refuse to refer to the play-in round as Round 1 like the NCAA does. Bite me.) Funny moment in the press conference: Walker said, "This should lead us into Michigan...excuse me, either UCLA or Michigan State." Oops. Looks like his bracket is gonna take a hit.


Feeling pumped about your Gators? Predicting a Final Four run or still a little skeptical of this team? And if you were there, how did you feel about the fan support?


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