Monday May 28, 2012 No. 1-seed Gators will be battle-tested, thanks to nation's No. 1 schedule
Updated: 8:44pm, May 28
Updated: 8:44pm, May 28
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There are reasons to play the hardest schedule in the nation.
To get the No. 1 seed in the nation’s tournament, for example.
That’s the reward Florida and Coach Kevin O’Sullivan received Monday when the NCAA unveiled its tournament bracket, with the Gators (42-18) seeded at the top of the field and hosting a regional, starting with Friday’s first-round action against Bethune-Cookman (34-25). UF defeated BCC in both their meetings during the regular season.
The other end of the Gainesville region will pit Georgia Tech (36-24), champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, against College of Charleston (37-20).
The survive-and-advance mentality starts now, with the Gators thinking there's nothing -- thanks to that schedule -- they haven't seen yet.
“Everybody talks about how we haven’t played our best baseball,” O’Sullivan (pictured left) said Monday. “Well, it doesn’t get much better than being the No. 1 national seed. Now, we have to play well as we move along.”
They’ll be battle-tested, there’s no denying that.
After starting the season 23-2, the Gators went 19-16 the rest of the way. It’s the former record -- which included series losses to Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas, mid-week defeats against North Florida, South Florida and Samford, plus two more against Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament -- that have some UF fans concerned.
A few Gators are even realistic.
“We played mediocre all year,” senior pitcher Greg Larson said.
Maybe so, but UF’s pockets of inconsistency have come against a brutal gauntlet of opponents. Florida’s strength of schedule ranked No. 1 and its RPI was No. 2 (behind only second overall seed UCLA). The Gators went 23-13 versus teams in the RPI’s Top 50 and 28-13 versus teams that reached the NCAA Tournament, including 7-3 versus the top eight seeds.
Since the team convened for the fall season, its sole focus has been returning to the College World Series, where the Gators lost to SEC rival South Carolina in the championship series last year.
Now the road back to Omaha runs from McKethan Stadium (right).
“I’m very, very pleased with where we are as a team,” O’Sullivan said.
That includes being very, very prepared when it comes to facing the best an opponent should have to offer, but it also has to do with where the team is physically.
Not their bodies, but they’re physical location.
The Gators ended the regular season with a mid-week game in Samford, followed by a three-game series at Auburn, then went to Hoover for the SEC Tournament.
That’s 14 days of baseball in Alabama.
“Glad to be home, glad to be hosting,” O’Sullivan said.
If all goes as planned, the next 14 days should be baseball in Gainesville.
Then, hopefully, baseball in Nebraska.