by Pat Dooley
Tampa seems to be the focus of so many fans and media who cover the Florida basketball team. Can the Gators win enough down the stretch to land in Tampa at the St. Pete Times Forum for the NCAA Tournament?
Is it really that big a deal?
Certainly, you want Florida to get the highest possible seed. I get that. But two things about Tampa — 1. Florida’s history in that arena is less than stellar; and 2. Gator fans really don’t show up there.
Now, to debunk my two points — 1. What past teams have done there has nothing to do with this team; and 2. The last two times UF has played there, the Gator Nation hasn’t been that fond of the team that was suiting up.
One of Billy Donovan’s lowest moments as a coach came at the Forum when his second-seeded team lost 68-46 to a 12-loss Michigan State team in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. I remember a few weeks later sitting in Billy’s office and he said, “Dools, before the game everyone said Michigan State would be too physical for us. Then they were too physical. And now I’m a bad coach?”
Point taken. But he was killed by the members of the state media who were basically seeing Florida play for the first time that season.
Two seasons ago, a Florida team that needed a couple of wins to make the Dance was beaten by an awful Auburn team in the second round of the SEC Tournament. Hello, NIT. The crowd in Tampa was hardly pro-Gator. To be honest, it was embarrassing.
Last season, the Gators returned to Tampa to play a very good Syracuse team. The Gators held their own before losing 85-73. There were more Syracuse fans than Florida fans in the crowd.
My point (I think) is this — while it may be great for the media and the fans if the Gators go to Tampa, I think there is a level of excitement for the players if they go somewhere else. In the end, remember this about the NCAA Tournament — it matters more who you are playing than where you are playing. The tournament is always about matchups more than venues.