The 13th-ranked Gators, 5-4 in their last nine games, will head to the tournament as a 3-seed in the South Region as the field was announced Sunday night. Florida (26-7) will open against No. 14 seed Northwestern State (23-8) on Friday in Austin, Texas, in a Southeastern Conference vs. Southland Conference matchup. The two schools have never met.
The Gators were a 3-seed in the 2006 NCAA Tournament when they won their first national championship. They have reached the Elite Eight in the last two years.
Florida, who lost to Ole Miss 66-63 in the SEC tournament final on Sunday, will be making its fourth consecutive appearance in the tournament. The Gators are 28-10 in the tourney under coach Billy Donovan with two national championships in 2006 and 2007. Donovan has led UF to the NCAA tourney in 13 of his 17 years at UF. In all, the Gators have made the tournament 16 times.
"We're excited to be in the NCAA Tournament, and we look forward to a great challenge against Northwestern State on Friday,” Donovan said in a statement released by the school.
Northwestern State is the nation’s highest-scoring team at 81 points a game. Florida has the best scoring defense of any team in the NCAA field at 53 points per game.
"Well, we like to play fast, too. They've gotten to this point in time of the season and the NCAA Tournament for their style of play and the way they play. They do a great job at it. We've got to obviously play our style, too. I think the game is going to certainly be played in transition. They're really good in transition, and they can score quickly. They can turn you over a lot. They are really good at those things."
Should UF beat the Demons, it would face the winner of the UCLA-Minnesota game in the Round of 32.
NSU coach Mike McConathy is in his 14th year coaching the Demons. His team defeated Stephen F. Austin 68-66 to win the Southland Conference title on Saturday. The Demons played three SEC schools this season, losing to Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M.
"One, it was very early in the year. Teams always get better and improve as the year goes on. I think the other thing you look at too is, going on the road and playing in an SEC environment is very challenging. Those are hard basketball games and not necessarily neutral-site games. But at least it will give me some familiarity as it relates to, we know Arkansas' size, strength, speed, quickness. LSU, the same thing. That may help there a little bit. I think because you're so far removed from those games, I don't know how much value they bring as watching their most recent games."
If the Gators win two games in Austin, they’ll travel to Arlington, Texas, for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.
Kansas is the top seed in the South Region, followed by Georgetown, UF and Michigan. Florida could meet the Hoyas in the Sweet 16. The two teams had their season-opener on the USS Bataan at Mayport on Nov. 8 cancelled at halftime because of condensation on the court.
The Final Four takes place in Atlanta with the national semifinals April 6 and the title game set for April 8.