It hasn't happened since the '97-'98 season, but the Gators are on the verge of doing it again. The "it" in this case is failing to secure an NCAA Tournament berth. And there's a real possibility that they might miss the "Big Dance" this season.
Heading into February, the Gators looked like they would be a pretty solid lock to make the tournament. They were ranked 20th as they went into their first game of the month against Arkansas. They ended up getting blown out by 19 points. Three days later they were looking to rebound against the then ranked #7 Tennessee Volunteers. They lost by 22 points, and fell even farther away from the Top 25. They were able to get their first win of the month against Georgia on February 9th, but lost two more straight against LSU and Vanderbilt. Last night, they picked up just their second win of February against South Carolina, putting their record for the month so far at 2-4. Overall they're 20-7 with an SEC record of 7-5.
Interestingly enough, the last Gator squad to miss the tourney also struggled in February. That '97 team went 3-6 through the month after having lost just seven games all season up to that point. That team finished the regular season with a 13-13 record, and got knocked out of the SEC Tournament in the second round against South Carolina. They finished the season with a loss in the NIT Tournament against Georgetown.
So, what are the Gators' chances of making the tournament? Pretty good actually. Currently, the teams towards the bottom of the Top 25 rankings have similar records, though Florida's conference record is a bit weaker. However, the Gators do have a shot at finishing up their conference schedule with some much needed wins, and the game on March 5 versus Tennessee has become extremely important. Getting a win against a top ranked team late in the season could be just what this young Gators team needs to carry them through the SEC Tournament.
Right now, though the Gators look to be on the proverbial bubble. Their RPI ranking is #56, and one or two more losses, especially against unranked opponents, could seal their fate. Coach Donovan is a master at motivation, and he's going to need to do all that he can to get this Gators team to pull out some very important wins as the season winds down. Or else they'll quickly be remembered as the first Gators team in 10 years to miss the NCAA Tournament, and not the one that was doing its best to defend back-to-back NCAA titles.