Florida returns to NCAAs; Texas puts 7 in field
Florida is back in the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence.
Now, coach Billy Donovan and the Gators have a winning streak they
want to extend.
Florida earned the No. 10 seed in the West Regional on Sunday
and will play seventh-seeded BYU in the opening round Thursday in
Oklahoma City. Florida has won 12 consecutive games in the NCAAs,
all coming during back-to-back title runs in 2006 and 2007.
“We’re very, very excited, and grateful for the opportunity,”
Donovan said in Gainesville, Fla. “I’m most excited for our
players having a chance to experience this. For most of them, this
is something they haven’t been through yet. They’ve worked so hard
from Day 1, and it’s great to see them rewarded.”
The Gators missed the 65-team field the last two seasons and
settled for the NIT. They desperately wanted to get back in the
NCAAs this year, but struggled to overcome depth issues, poor
3-point shooting and inconsistent frontcourt play.
Florida (21-12) appeared to be a lock to end its drought after
beating Tennessee on Feb. 23, but lost four of its next five
The Gators were beaten by Mississippi State in the second round
of the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday and had to wait 48
hours to learn their postseason fate.
This time, it was good news.
“It was a stressful 48 hours not knowing it we were in or
out,” forward Chandler Parsons said. “We’re really excited to be
a part of it. For most of us, it’s our first experience with the
NCAA tournament. We don’t just want to go and play one game. We
want to prove we’re deserving of being there.”
SEVENTH HEAVEN: The Lone Star State will be well-represented in
the NCAA tournament.
A total of seven Texas schools made the field, tying a record
set by California in 2002. Houston, North Texas and Sam Houston
State secured automatic berths by winning their conference
tournaments. Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and UTEP earned at-large
Texas already holds the record for most schools to have appeared
in the tournament (23), but never before had the state had more
than five in one year.
Houston (19-15) is the biggest surprise of the group, winning
four straight games at the Conference USA tournament to nab the
program’s first berth since 1992. Cougars coach Tom Penders became
the ninth coach to lead four different schools to the NCAA
SITTING PRETTY: Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett and his Gaels
finally got to relax and enjoy an NCAA tournament selection
After beating nemesis Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference
tournament and earn an automatic bid to the NCAAs, Saint Mary’s, a
perennial bubble team, knew it was in. So the Gaels and their fans
started celebrating early at McKeon Pavilion as they awaited word
of their seed and first-round opponent.
“I like doing it the way we did it this year so you’re not in
suspense,” Bennett said in Moraga, Calif. “It’s been a fun week,
an enjoyable week.”
Saint Mary’s (26-5) received the No. 10 seed in the South
Regional and will face seventh-seeded Richmond (25-8) in a
first-round game Thursday at Providence, R.I.
This is Saint Mary’s sixth NCAA tournament berth and third under
Bennett, in his ninth season at the school. The Gaels are 1-5 in
the NCAAs, with their only win coming during their first trip in
“I think we’re going to make a run in the tournament,” center
Omar Samhan said. “That’s what we’re planning on. I think beating
Gonzaga helped build confidence. This is the year we can do
Last year, the Gaels opened the season 18-1 but wound up
heartbroken and out of the tournament field. In 2005 and 2008,
Saint Mary’s earned at-large bids and No. 10 seeds but had to sweat
before hearing the good news. This year, the Gaels, enjoyed the
moment with around 1,000 of their fans.
“It’s about 100 times easier,” guard Mickey McConnell said.
“Just even in practice you don’t have it linger in the back of
your mind, ‘Are we going to play?’ We can just focus on getting
ready for whoever we’re going to play. Sitting here you’re relaxed.
It’s still pretty nerve-racking to find out where you’re going to
play, but it’s definitely not the same type of pressure.”
BACK IN TIME: Georgia Tech is returning to the city where it
launched its run to the 2004 NCAA championship game.
Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt had a warm flashback when he
saw his 10th-seeded team was being sent to Milwaukee for its
first-round game against No. 7 seed Oklahoma State on Friday in the
Midwest Regional. Georgia Tech opened its successful 2004
tournament in Milwaukee.
“Hopefully, that’s a sign of good things to come,” Hewitt said
Georgia Tech beat Oklahoma State in the 2004 NCAA semifinals
before losing to Connecticut in the title game.
Beaten by No. 4 Duke 65-61 in the ACC championship game Sunday,
the Yellow Jackets (22-12) are going to the NCAAs for the first
time since 2007. They’re looking for their first win since
Hewitt said he’ll give his team Monday and Tuesday off before it
returns to practice.
“They need to sit back for a couple of days and just try to get
their thoughts together and enjoy this moment,” Hewitt said.
“Right now we’re just getting through this ACC tournament. It’s a
tough tournament with four games in four days. It’s taxing. We’ll
start getting our bodies right for Friday.”
LONG AND WINDING ROAD: Vanderbilt will travel a long way to play
a team from Kentucky.
Jermaine Beal and the Commodores are a No. 4 seed, matching
their best under coach Kevin Stallings. They will play 13th-seeded
Murray State, the Ohio Valley Conference regular season and
tournament champion, on Thursday in San Jose, Calif., in the West
“It’s kind of ironic that we have to go 2,500, 3,000 miles to
play them,” Stallings said in Nashville, Tenn.
Murray State coach Billy Kennedy brought his Racers to Memorial
Gym at Vanderbilt just more than a week ago to practice during the
OVC tournament in Nashville. The Racers’ home campus is about two
hours away in Murray, Ky.
“I was thinking about just calling him and see if he just
wanted to play the game here and not have to travel all the way to
San Jose,” Stallings said. “Jermaine wouldn’t like that because
he said he wanted us to play as far away from here as we could. I
think you got your wish.”
Vanderbilt played in Phoenix during a 2004 run to the regional
semifinals and won its first two games in Sacramento, Calif., in
2007 before losing to Georgetown 66-65 in an East Regional
semifinal. Stallings also recalled beating Tennessee out west while
coaching Illinois State in 1998.
“The West has been blessed for us, or for me, and hopefully it
will be again,” Stallings said.
Even though the selection committee tries to keep top-seeded
teams as close to home as possible, Vanderbilt and Murray State are
far from the only squads with long trips ahead of them.
No. 4 seed Maryland goes to Spokane, Wash., to face 13th-seeded
Houston on Friday. No. 8 seed Gonzaga will travel from its campus
in Spokane to play No. 9 seed Florida State in Buffalo, N.Y., on
Friday. And another No. 8 seed, California, gets ninth-seeded
Louisville in Jacksonville, Fla., on Friday.
No. 10 seed St. Mary’s must travel from Moraga, Calif., to
Providence, R.I., to play seventh-seeded Richmond on Thursday. No.
11 seed San Diego State also is headed to Providence for a matchup
with sixth-seeded Tennessee. And 13th-seeded Siena was sent to
Spokane to play No. 4 seed Purdue on Friday.
AT THE BUZZER: Four teams from the Southeastern Conference
(Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Florida) made the NCAA
tournament after the league had an all-time low of three last year.
… The selection committee tries to set the pairings so that teams
from the same conference can’t play each other until at least the
regional finals. But with eight Big East schools in the field of
65, the round of 16 could include a pair of matchups between Big
East squads: No. 2 seed Villanova could face No. 6 seed Notre Dame
in the South Regional, and No. 2 seed West Virginia could play No.
6 seed Marquette in the East Regional. “The committee did
everything that they could to separate those teams as much as
possible. Once you get into the bracketing scenario, it can be
pretty complicated,” committee chairman Dan Guerrero said. “We
tried to match up teams that only played once during the regular
season, and in essence that’s where we ended up.”