GAINESVILLE -- Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is “good to go” after knocking knees with a Pittsburgh player late in Florida’s 61-45 win over the Panthers on Saturday in Orlando.
“My knee feels fine,” said Wilbekin, who fueled the top-seeded Gators to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 with a game-high 21 points.
The Southeastern Conference Player of the Year was forced to miss the final minute of action with the injury, but called it simply “a bruise.”
Coach Billy Donovan expects Wilbekin to practice normally, adding, “There's no issues right now, at least that I've been aware of or made aware of as it relates to him going forward.”
The Gators (33-2) will tangle with the fourth-seeded UCLA Bruins on Thursday (9:45 p.m., CBS) in the South Regional Semifinals in Memphis, Tenn.
SEC! SEC! SEC!
Much was made over the SEC’s weakness as a major hoops conference this season, but with three Sweet 16 teams -- top-seeded Florida, ninth-seeded Kentucky and 11th-seeded Tennessee -- the league is slowly altering public perception.
While UK and UT are suddenly playing to peak potential, Donovan believes the conference’s reputation -- past and present -- has been overblown all along.
“I think our league can play with any league in the country,” UF’s coach said.
“But I would say this, and I've said this before: Just because a certain league teams get knocked out early doesn't mean the league is overrated, and because a league really, really advances in the tournament doesn't mean the league is great. I just get upset when all of a sudden everybody just throws out and makes assumptions or draws conclusions of a league being good or bad based on what's happened in the non‑conference. That to me is, I think, somewhat unfair.”
The SEC -- aside from Florida and Kentucky -- was pitiful during non-conference play in November and December, de-valuing its reputation across the country with poor scheduling and inexplicable losses.
But the league is undefeated in the NCAA Tournament (7-0) -- the best record for a conference entering the Regional Semifinals since the Big East in 2003 (8-0).
“It’s pretty cool to see three SEC teams in the Sweet 16,” Wilbekin said. “All I heard all year was that the SEC was down and it was weak.”
Donovan acknowledged matchups are key in single-elimination tournaments but that leagues shouldn’t be measured solely on postseason successes or failures.
“I think if everybody in the SEC was out of the tournament, they'd say, ‘See, I told you the league is no good,’” Donovan explained.
“Now we've got some teams advancing: ‘Wow, the league must be really, really underrated.’ Sometimes it has to do with matchups, sometimes it has to do with who you're playing against; sometimes it has to do with how well you're playing. There's a lot of variables that go into winning in postseason.”
THOUGHTS ON PEARL
While some league coaches have shied away from commenting on Bruce Pearl’s return to the SEC, Donovan called Auburn’s hiring “good for the league.”
The Tigers poached Pearl from ESPN last week, several months before the former Tennessee coach’s three-year NCAA show cause expires.
“I had a chance to talk to Bruce,” Donovan said. “He had called me and we had talked a little bit. I'm happy for him. I think just being in the league with him for that long and kept in touch with him the three years he was out, and I think for him it was ‑‑ he went through a lot of difficulty personally internally. I think it was really hard on him.”
The Volunteers fired Pearl in March 2011 after he lied to NCAA investigators and the program was hit with minor sanctions.
“He's an outstanding coach,” Donovan said. I think Bruce coming in will do a great job. He'll certainly bring energy and enthusiasm to the league, to Auburn, and I'm happy for him if that's what he wants to do.”
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