Unlike many sports fans, I don't subscribe to the theory that the NCAA Tournament renders the college basketball season meaningless. For some juggernauts, the early season matchups are relatively worthless, but for the vast majority of teams, quality wins are needed no matter where or when they fall on the schedule.
The University of Florida has presented both sides of this case within the past two seasons. When the Gators went on a late season skid last year, there wasn't a high level of concern amongst Florida faithful. Sure, Gator fans were worried about righting the ship in time for another run at a National Title but they never questioned whether or not Florida would receive anything other than a #1 or 2 seed (to say nothing of the lack of attention that most paid to the out of conference schedule). This year, however, has seen Billy Donovan trot out a new team almost entirely, and that new team needed to stack up wins in the early season in order to be adequately prepared for the struggles that would undoubtedly come in conference play for a team that boasts 4 freshman and 2 sophomores in its top 7. Despite some unexpectedly heady play by freshman guards Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas early in the SEC season, Florida's youngsters have struggled to fight through the fatugue that rough and tumble conference play often brings and, as a result, the losses have stacked up in the last few weeks.
So what does all this mean? Well, to put it succintly, Florida needs another win (or two depending on who you ask) to ensure their inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. For a team this young, the tournament experience cannot be understated with regards to building towards future success and that's why today's game against SEC West leader Mississippi State may be the most important game of any of these young Gator's lives. According to me, if Florida captures a victory today, they're in the tourney. With that in mind, I'll be liveblogging the Florida-Mississippi State game in comments here this afternoon. If you're drunk, bored or absolutely hard up for some quasi-human interaction, join me. I'll be the one with his fingers crossed.