Gators slip to No. 7 seed

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's late-season stumble has the Gators heading west in the NCAA Tournament -- and with a lower seed than many expected.

Florida was given a No. 7 seed in the West Regional and will play a second-round game against No. 10-seed Virginia in Omaha, Neb., on Friday. A victory over the Cavaliers likely would pit the Gators against No. 2 seed Missouri in a third-round game, provided the Southeastern Conference-bound Tigers beat No. 15 seed Norfolk State.

"It's always an honor to be part of the NCAA tournament, and we're excited about playing," UF coach Billy Donovan said in a statement. "We know we have a great challenge ahead of us in Virginia and look forward to competing on this stage."

Florida (23-10) enters the NCAA tournament losers of four of its last give games. The 21st-ranked Gators closed the regular season with losses at Georgia and Vanderbilt and at home against Kentucky. After a victory over Alabama in the SEC tournament, the Gators again lost to the top-ranked Wildcats in a semifinal -- although only by three points.

That stretch likely cost the Gators a No. 5 seed and a potential trip closer to home for the second and third rounds. The Gators' RPI (28) and non-conference victories over Arizona, Texas A&M and Florida State were not enough to overcome the late-season slump.

In Virginia, the Gators get a team that had victories over NCAA tournament teams Michigan and N.C. State. The Cavaliers (22-9) were second in the country in scoring defense (53.2 ppg) and 20th nationally in field goal percentage defense (39.1 percent) in the regular season. However, the Cavaliers struggle offensively, averaging just 63.1 points per game (269th out of 338 teams nationally) and 5.0 3-pointers per game.

Virginia's best player is 6-foot-8 forward Mike Scott (18.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg). The Cavaliers are deep, with six players averaging at least 18.9 minutes per game. Guard Malcolm Brogdon (6.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg) is out for the season after undergoing surgery for a broken bone in his foot last week. That's a big loss for the Cavaliers, because he's 6-5, and UFs' smaller guards have trouble getting shots off against bigger guards.

"We have a lot to learn about Virginia over the next few days, but I know our coaches will do a great job preparing us," UF guard Erving Walker said in a statement.

Looming as a likely third-round matchup on Sunday if the Gators advance is Missouri -- provided it gets by No. 15 seed Norfolk State. The third-ranked Tigers (30-4), who were in the conversation for a No. 1 seed several weeks ago, beat 10th-ranked Baylor for the Big 12 tournament title on Saturday.

The West Region semifinals and final will be held in Phoenix, Ariz., on March 22 and 24.

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNDiRocco.