GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida basketball coach Mike White is intently focused on preparing for the Gators’ Sweet 16 game Friday night with Wisconsin.
He and his staff have been studying video of the Badgers, dissecting matchups … heck, he even took time to look up their Wikipedia page to marvel at just how consistent their program has been over the years.
But at the same time White couldn’t help but look around the rest of the Sweet 16 field, see the depth of SEC representation and start thinking about how good the conference could be next season.
Along with Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina advanced to the regional semifinals, giving the SEC three Sweet 16 teams for the first time since 2014.
White took it a step further, mentioning that Texas A&M made it this far a year ago, meaning four different SEC programs in two years reached this stage.
“I just think the SEC’s got a bunch of momentum,” White said. “We’re 99.5 percent on Wisconsin, but when you’re staring at the computer screen for a couple straight hours, sometimes I’ll jump up and I’ve got to get an ADD break and go grab my tea. And you have those little 20-second impromptu hallway staff meetings, and we talked about, ‘Wow, how good will the SEC be next year? It’s incredible. All these teams.’
“There might be 3-4 teams that plateau, that are similar to this year, maybe even take a slight step backward, but there’s going to be a handful that take a big step forward. The SEC’s got a lot of momentum, in my opinion.”
The No. 4-seeded Gators (26-8) roll into Madison Square Garden in New York City this week after an 80-65 win over East Tennessee State and a 65-39 drubbing of Virginia.
Meanwhile, No. 2 seed Kentucky took care of business with wins over Northern Kentucky (79-70) and Wichita State (65-62). No. 7 seed South Carolina is also headed to MSG after wins over Marquette (93-73) and Duke (88-81).
White watched that last Gamecocks game with family. His father, Kevin White, is the athletic director at Duke.
”Huge win for South Carolina. Happy for Frank. Obviously disappointed for the Dukies,” he said. “I watched it with my mom the other night. She was screaming at the television. You know, again, great for the league.”
SEC measures up
Florida point guard Chris Chiozza said he believes this proves the SEC is a top-three conference, “if not the best conference.”
Well, nobody is making the argument for the latter, and the former may be a bit ambitious as well.
WarrenNolan.com ranked the SEC fifth in the RPI this season behind the Big 12, ACC, Big Ten and Big East.
But the SEC has certainly made a statement this March and will get the opportunity to continuing making one this week. For comparison’s sake, the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 also have three Sweet 16 teams. The Big East has two and the ACC has just one.
“We have three teams still in. We almost had four,” Chiozza said, referencing an Arkansas team that nearly upset North Carolina. “So just knowing that the two teams left in it besides us, we’ve beaten both of them and they’re still in the Sweet 16, (that shows) we can beat anybody.”
Said Gators forward Devin Robinson: “We don’t really get talked about that much, basketball-wise. … But the SEC is a tough league, it really gets (overlooked) and you can see that now it’s three teams in the SEC right now in the Sweet 16 and it’s a great battle in that conference. And that conference got us ready to battle against anybody.”