Quick Hitters: No. 1 Florida rallies past Vols in SEC semis
MAR 15, 2014 4:53p ET
1. Florida has unofficially clinched -- spoiler alert -- the national No. 1 seed for the NCAA tourney ... regardless of Sunday's outcome
One could make the case for 10 teams possessing a No. 1 regional seed come Sunday night -- the result of significant parity amongst the big-time conferences and nationally ranked clubs.
The lone constant amid this enjoyable turmoil?
With its 25-game winning streak (per-game margins of 13-plus points) and distinction of becoming the first 18-0 regular-season champ in SEC history, Florida (31-2 overall) stands as the redoubtable choice for the No. 1 overall slot ... when the madness finally breaks on Tuesday night.
Florida's path to the Final Four will begin in Orlando, with some random punching bag as the 16-seed (Round 2) and potential giant killers in the realm of either Oklahoma State (starring Marcus Smart), Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Massachusetts, Oregon, Colorado State or Arizona State for Round 3.
If victorious, Florida would then advance to either Memphis or Indianapolis for regional play -- the closest venues to Gainesville.
So, in that respect, the Gators could easily be at a home-area disadvantage against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa State, Wisconsin or even Kentucky, which currently has the resume of a 6 or 7 seed in the NCAAs.
Although an SEC tourney title could easily bump the Wildcats up to a 4 or 5.
2. Saturday's most important bucket wasn't scored during the second half
Scottie Wilbekin's pre-buzzer three-pointer at the end of the first half was absolutely crucial to Florida's second-half success. From a psychology standpoint, there's a sizable gap between trailing by seven points -- compared to 10 -- headed into intermission.
As such, the relaxed Gators instantly fed off Wilbekin's launching-pad mojo when play resumed, firing off a 10-2 run in the opening six minutes ... before settling in for a back-and-forth -- and sometimes chippy -- clash to conclude the game.
3. Wilbekin was the ultimate 'X' factor for Florida -- on defense
Tennessee's Jordan McRae was a matchup nightmare in the first 20 minutes, scoring 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Within that period of excellence against Florida, McRae had little difficulty getting to the basket in half-court sets or dunking over would-be defenders in the open floor.
But the second half brought great change, with Wilbekin (14 points) providing blanket coverage for every one of McRae's half-court moves. The Vols senior finished with a respectable 15 points, but only connected on 3 of 7 shots in the second half.
The bad news trickled down to the Vols, at large. Tennessee, on the whole, only notched one field goal in the final 12 minutes -- a McRae three-pointer that was heavily contested by Wilbekin, who collected four steals on the day.
4. The Vols likely won't be penalized for Saturday's loss, in the eyes of the NCAA tournament committee
There is no greater resume coup than knocking off the nation's No. 1 team on a neutral floor, something the Volunteers (21-12; No. 41 overall entering Saturday) nearly pulled off.
But as we wrote on Friday, Tennessee's greatest weekend triumph was sidestepping the potentially catastrophic landmine of losing to lowly South Carolina (UT won by 15 instead), which could have been a death knell to the Vols' chances.
Instead, as the SEC's third NCAA bid, the Volunteers can look forward to a 9 or 10 tourney seed -- the result of finishing the regular season on a 5-1 kick, with Saturday's respectable defeat as the lone blemish.
5. Did Antonio Barton take an elbow to the nose or perform a piece of acting worthy of Oscar consideration?
At first blush, it appeared the Vols' Barton got whacked at the bridge of the nose when guarding Wilbekin late in the second half. Upon impact, he immediately went to the floor, eyes watering from the dual experience of catching an elbow and then tumbling to the hardwood.
But the ABC TV replays, especially the side-view shots, seemed to indicate that Barton may have flopped a bit -- as a means of halting Florida's possession and swinging the momentum back in Tennessee's favor.
(At the time, the Vols trailed by four with 1:19 left in the game.)
Predictably, a torrent of social-media criticism washed over the moment, with TV viewers throughout the nation scoffing at Barton's potential flop.
It even motivated one writer to Tweet the following, in a moment of angst:
For the record, the Tennessee players maintain that Barton genuinely drew contact from the Wilbekin elbow.
Barton will presumably be fine for the NCAA tournament.