Gators To Play Exhibition Game Against Embry-Riddle

As had been tradition in recent years the Gators will play an exhibition game with a non-D1 team before kicking off their season, this time with D2 Embry-Riddle, an aeronautical university in Daytona Beach. 

 

Playing against a division-2 school allows the Gators to play in a rather low stress environment while still playing against quality athletes, many of whom are division-1 level athletes who just went down different paths. 

 

For Embry-Riddle (the Eagles), the exhibition against Florida will be a tremendous return to basketball. Unfortunately, their entire 2020-21 season was cancelled due to COVID, particularly sad due to the fact they were set to return a talented team after a successful 2019-20. In that season the Eagles had a 20-10 record, just coming short of winning the Sunshine State Conference Tournament. They were on their way to the D2 NCAA Tournament when it was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

 

Though a few key pieces from their 2019-20 season are gone, they still have a talented roster this year and should provide the Gators a good test. The most important player to be aware of is Romeo Crouch, a Titusville, Florida native. Crouch started his collegiate season at the division-1 level playing for Presbyterian where he was a capable rotation player before transferring to Rembry-Riddle. There, in 2019-20, he had one of the greatest seasons in program history averaging 19 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. The 6’3” guard also had a reputation as one of the best defensive players in the country at the D2 level, averaging a whopping 3 steals per game. Offensively, he put together one of the craziest shooting seasons you will see at any level of basketball, hitting 43% on just a hair under 9 attempts per game. That level of efficiency on that high of volume is nothing short of spectacular, and the Gators will have to be aware of his ability to bomb from deep.

 

Another player to note is Jon Alessandro, a transfer from West Liberty, a D2 powerhouse. Alessandro is 6’7” and 210 pounds, someone that brings some skill and length to Embry-Riddle’s frontcourt. The Eagles don’t have a huge frontcourt so it’s likely Alessandro will get minutes at the five, and he’s got some perimeter skill that could challenge a few of Florida’s bigs. 

 

One of the great stories of the Embry-Riddle basketball program is the continuity of their coaching staff. Head coach Steve Ridder is a respected man in the business, and he has been at Embry-Riddle since the 1989-90 season. It’s always impressive for a coach to stay at one program for that long, and his 30-year tenure shows his dedication to the program, one that has had a lot of sustained success.

 

If there is one thing that Coach Ridder’s teams have been able to do, it’s score the basketball. Embry-Riddle hit an unbelievable 39% of their threes in 2019-20, and it wasn’t all Romeo Crouch. Elijah Jenkins (42%), Nick Heard (46%), Chris Murray (46%), and David Park (39%) rounded out what was one of the most incredible shooting teams in the country, and guess what, all five of these lethal marksmen are back this season. The Gators are going to have a lot of shooters to contend with, something that will be a great challenge for their defense. Florida has always made running shooters off the three-point line a priority under Mike White, so it will be a great test for them to take on the Eagles. Exhibitions are all about getting better and putting yourself in a position where you can see where you’re at with certain things and where you need to get better and Embry-Riddle’s fantastic offense and lethal three-point barrage could be just what Florida needs. 

 

Embry-Riddle was also one of the best passing teams in the country with multiple distributors that frustrate defenses with their court vision. The Eagles run an offense with a lot of off-ball action and they rely on unselfish basketball to move the rock and find these open cutters. When defenses are forced to react to take away the pressure put on the rim by these cuts, shooters are left open and that’s where the Eagles can really do damage.

 

This game will be a major opportunity for the Gators to start to see which lineups work together and see who their best 5, 6, 7, or 8 players in the rotation might be. With so many new pieces there is a lot of gelling that needs to occur and this exhibition will be of utmost importance to get game reps.

 

The game will be viewable on SEC Network+ at 7 ET on November 1st.

 

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.

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