Florida might control the Southeastern Conference race, but it
needs help in another important quest.
The Gators are jockeying with several teams around the nation to earn one of the four coveted No. 1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Jerry Palm projects the NCAA field for CBS Sports and currently has the Gators as a No. 3 seed, as does ESPN's bracket expert Joe Lunardi.
There is an historical difference between the top three seeds looking solely at the opening round of the tournament.
A top seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed in 112 games.
A 15 seed has upset a No. 2 seed six times, including twice in last season's tournament. Lehigh beat Duke and Norfolk State edged Missouri.
A No. 3 seed has been knocked out of the first round 16 times.
Palm and Lunardi's projection is consistent with the voters in the Associated Press poll, who rank UF (23-5, 13-3) at No. 11.
However, the computer element favors the Gators quite a bit more.
Florida's Ratings Percentage Index rank is quite higher. UF is sixth in the RPI, the tool the NCAA Selection Committee relies on the most.
College basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy ranks UF as the nation's best team on his website, kenpom.com. The Gators have won all of their games by at least 12 points and are second in the country in scoring margin at plus-19.3 points a game.
Florida has built an impressive record, but its resume does contain flaws. The Gators don't have a road win over any team in the RPI top 75.
"The biggest thing going against Florida is its inability to win away from home," Palm said. "They haven't beaten anybody of any significance away from home. I'm not sure they can do anything about it between now and the end of the regular season."
UF plays one more road game when it visits Kentucky on Saturday. The 'Cats are 51st in the RPI.
"The committee wants to see its top seeds play quality basketball away from home and Florida hasn't really done that," Palm said.
However, Palm believes the Gators remain in contention for a No. 1 seed. The biggest storyline in college basketball this season has been the large amount of upsets among the top 10 teams. Six of the top nine teams in last week's AP poll lost, UF included.
If the trend continues, Florida could take advantage provided it can avoid another loss.
"I don't think they are totally out of the running, because it is very competitive at the top of the bracket," Palm said. "The top teams are going down every time you turn around. So if other teams pile up losses and Florida doesn't, then they'd have a shot."
While Palm isn't confident UF will climb to a No. 1 seed, he also doesn't see the Gators slipping further down the board. UF hosts Vanderbilt (13-15, 7-9) on Wednesday before traveling to Kentucky.
"The bottom for Florida is probably a three seed," Palm said.
Florida's seed hasn't always been a strong indicator of how the Gators fared in the NCAA tourney under coach Billy Donovan.
The Gators have been to three Final Fours under Donovan and all were with different seeds. UF reached the national title game as a No. 5 seed in 2000. The 2006 championship squad entered the field as a No. 3 seed, while the 2007 title team was a No. 1 seed.
Florida advanced to the Elite Eight last season as a No. 7 seed.
"You could look at the numbers and say the better seeding you have, the more likelihood there is to advance," Donovan said. "But, I mean, we're a seven seed last year with an opportunity to go to the Final Four. We've got to go out and play regardless of what the number is next to our name."
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