Florida caught a break on Friday as No. 15 seeded Oral Roberts upset No. 2 Ohio State in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, after its win over Virginia Tech, seventh-seeded UF draws the Golden Eagles instead of the Buckeyes in the Round of 32.
The Gators likely would have been severe underdogs against OSU, but they’re now the biggest favorite of Sunday’s games (the line is currently 8.5 points according to BetMGM). But they may be without two of their key players, as the status of guard Tyree Appleby and forward Omar Payne are still uncertain.
Appleby exited the victory over Virginia Tech after taking an elbow-shot to the forehead, which caused him to start bleeding. He was taken to the locker room to receive stitches before returning to the sideline, apparently with the possibility of returning, according to Florida basketball SID Denver Parler.
He didn’t re-enter the game, though, and according to a report from CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein on Sunday morning, he’s a game-time decision for the Second Round contest. Considering he returned to the sideline with the potential of coming back into the game, it’s fair to assume he cleared the initial concussion protocol on Friday. But further testing this weekend would have been required to confirm a diagnosis, which is likely contributing to the uncertainty.
It seems likely that the mystery is an attempt at subterfuge and Appleby will play, given how the injury was handled during Friday’s game. But we may not know for sure until shortly before tip-off.
Rothstein also reported that Omar Payne is a “coach’s decision” on Sunday. Payne was ejected from Florida’s losing effort against Tennessee in the SEC quarterfinals after drawing a flagrant 2 foul when he elbowed Volunteers’ forward John Fulkerson in the head, ending his SEC Tournament.
Though no action was taken against Payne by either the SEC or NCAA, coach Mike White made the decision to hold him out of the first game of the tournament. According to Rothstein, a decision on whether that team suspension will carry over another game is “unlikely” to be made before game time.
Florida’s interior defense struggled tremendously without Payne, and if he’s not able to go against Oral Roberts, it will present a layer of complication to what should (on paper) be a relatively easy victory.
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