At the end of their team's dismantling of SEC rival Kentucky on Saturday afternoon, Florida fans saluted the top-ranked Gators by chanting "No. 1" over and over.
The way Florida has finished season, their fans won't get many arguments.
An 84-65 rout of the fading Wildcats was Florida's 23rd consecutive victory and likely secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the Gators no matter what they do in the SEC tournament. Florida also finished SEC play with an unbeaten record, something not even either of its back-to-back 2006 and 2007 national championship teams managed to do.
Only three SEC teams have navigated league play without a loss since 1956. The Gators are in elite company, joining Kentucky's 2012 and 1996 national championship teams and a 2003 Wildcats team that was upset in the Elite Eight by Dwyane Wade's Marquette team.
For long stretches of Saturday's game, Florida certainly looked the part of a team that can make a similarly deep March run.
A trio of Michael Frazier 3-pointers ignited a 19-4 first-half Florida run that enabled the Gators to build a 21-point halftime lead. Kentucky showed some gumption to claw back within six midway through the second half behind inspired play from Julius Randle, but whatever confidence the Wildcats gained quickly slipped away as Florida tightened its grip again.
Scottie Wilbekin halted the run with a key 3-pointer to extend the lead to nine. He and fellow seniors Patric Young and Casey Prather combined for the next 17 Florida points.
If the Gators' formidable defense, unselfish offense and senior-laden roster make them clear-cut national title contenders, then their domination of the Wildcats provided an accurate barometer for where the preseason No. 1 team stands.
Kentucky (22-9) continues to crash the offensive glass effectively and get to the foul line consistently, but their guard play and their man-to-man defense remains too erratic for a deep March run to feel realistic. Furthermore, the Wildcats seem to lack the confidence they had earlier in SEC play when they were at least playing at a higher level than they are now.
If the season were to end today, Kentucky would probably be no better than a No. 6 or 7 seed, which is remarkable considering that John Calipari began the season answering questions about the possibility of the Wildcats going 40-0.
Kentucky's regular season unquestionably has been a disappointment. Florida's on the other hand has been a smashing success.
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