Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No Bubble Trouble, but New Pressure for UF; Gators Aim for a Deeper Run as the Stretch Run in the SEC Ramps Up

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No Bubble Trouble, but New Pressure for UF; Gators Aim for a Deeper Run as the Stretch Run in the SEC Ramps Up

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL DIROCCO

GAINESVILLE - The NCAA Tournament is something that Kenny Boynton thinks about a lot.

This year, though, he's not checking the bracket projections on various websites to see if Florida has made the field.

That's because Boynton knows the 14th-ranked Gators are pretty much assured of a spot in the tournament. Barring a five-game losing streak to end the regular season, Florida will make its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. And even a swoon like that might not be enough to knock UF out of the field of 68.

It's a refreshing change for the Gators (20-5, 9-2 in the Southeastern Conference).

"Our expectations are bigger than last year," Boynton said. "Last year around this time, we were thinking about just making the NCAA Tournament. This year, we're thinking about going deep into the tournament, trying to win it."

Florida is undefeated this month (4-0), which padded a resume that already included victories over projected tournament teams Florida State, Kansas State, Xavier and Kent State. It's starting out to be a much better second half of the SEC schedule than the past three seasons, when the Gators went a combined 12-17 in regular-season SEC games in February and March after going a combined 14-5 in January.

The Gators, who have the best overall and conference record in the SEC, still have games road against LSU (today in Baton Rouge), Kentucky (Feb. 26) and Vanderbilt (March 5) and home games against Georgia (Feb. 24) and Alabama (March 1) remaining. All but LSU are ranked in the Ratings Percentage Index top 100, and Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia are in the top 41.

Heading into the LSU game, UF is 7-1 against teams in the RPI top 50 and 10-2 against teams in the top 100. The Gators' schedule strength ranks sixth, which is second only to Tennessee (third) among SEC teams.

Those factors have Florida headed to Tampa for the first two rounds in the latest ESPN.com and CBSSports.com projections - as a No. 3 seed playing Bucknell (ESPN.com) or a No. 4 seed playing Coastal Carolina (CBSSports.com).

UF coach Billy Donovan is not sure how his team will respond to higher expectations now that the Gators have all but locked up a tournament berth. …

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