Not many high-major teams in college basketball start the season off with an opponent that was still playing in late March the season before. And even more rare is to go on the road to play said opponent in a rivalry matchup.
That is exactly what the Florida Gators are going to do next Tuesday when they travel to Tallahassee to meet the Florida State Seminoles.
It’s new territory for a Florida team that typically opens the season, as so many others do, against a low-to-mid-major team. This opinion could change depending on the outcome, but Mike White seems to like the idea of jumping right into the non-conference schedule with a bang.
“If I had a preference I might choose to do it this way,” he said. “Both of us, leading into the game and after the opener, immediately afterward, will have had the opportunity to hang our hat on a month of practice leading into that game that you would think would be at a higher level of practices—a bit more of a productive month than if both programs were to open up with a guarantee game … If we don’t have a great week leading into this game, it’s a lot different having an average week leading into a guarantee game and playing a low-major team.”
Florida still has a bad taste in its mouth from the last time it played FSU. The Seminoles have defeated the Gators four straight times, but all of the previous meetings were close until last year’s 83-66 rout in the O’Dome.
At the time, Florida was one of the highest ranked teams in the country and had been performing exceptionally well. That loss was the second in a stretch of four losses in five games.
“I remember just being dominated in every aspect—rebounding, running the floor, I think they even shot it better than we did,” said senior guard Jalen Hudson. “I just didn’t feel like we were super prepared. Not prepared by the coaches, we were very prepared by the coaches, but I don’t feel like we prepared ourselves for the game.”
The Gators don’t want to relive the disappointment that came with this game last season again.
Tuesday’s game will be a really good indicator of where Florida stands. And with the schedule the Gators face this season, they will need to hope that is in a good place.
Along with FSU, Florida’s non-conference schedule features teams including West Virginia, Michigan State and Butler just to name a few. Then, the Gators will move into an SEC schedule that just continues to get tougher each and every year.
Again, that’s exactly how Florida likes it.
“You can sit here and say, ‘It’s intimidating, my God, how are we going to survive?’” White said. “Or you can sit here and say, ‘You come to Florida to play the best, and if you want to be an NCAA Tournament team, there’s ample opportunity to get better, to develop through it, to have certain aspects of our game exposed for development and improvement.'”