It came as a bit of a surprise only hours after it was announced that Mike White would be leaving the Florida Gators for the Georgia Bulldogs but when the National Invitational Tournament bracket was announced, the Gators were in it.
Even before it was known that White would be leaving, there was conversation about whether the Gators would accept an invitation to the NIT. When it comes to teams that are used to being in the NCAA Tournament, NIT invitations are often rejected, especially when they have more veteran teams. Some programs that are loaded with young players choose to play in the NIT in order to get more experience, but that isn’t exactly the case for the Gators who are loaded with 4th, 5th, and 6th year players.
It’s worth noting at this point that many Florida players were surprised to hear the Mike White news when it came down the pipe on Sunday. Florida’s players may have already said they were willing to play–but that was before they knew Mike White would be gone.
Al Pinkins, currently the associate head coach, would be the acting head coach if the Gators do in fact go and play in this tournament.
From an athletic department standpoint, Florida playing in the NIT is a positive as teams make money from TV contracts to play, and with the early rounds being at campus sites, Florida hosting a game means ticket and concession revenue. Heading into a coaching search, that’s never a bad thing.
When the bracket came out Sunday night the Gators came out as a 3-seed, slated to play Rick Pitino and Iona in the first round.
(This seems slightly comical, as you’ll see Rick Pitino’s name in Gator Country’s potential head coach hires article)
Iona had a fantastic season that had them considered to be a mid-major team ready to upset a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament before having disaster strike in the MAAC Tournament, losing to 8th seed Rider. Pitino’s Gaels won the MAAC regular season by a whopping three games so they were all set to win the Tournament, and their loss was considered disastrous.
Iona finished 89th in the NET, but was as high as in the fifties next to Florida earlier in the season.
In the non-conference portion of the season Iona had close losses to Belmont, Kansas, and St. Louis, and they came away with a marquee win over Alabama, showing their ability to knock off high major opponents.
Rick Pitino is known as one of the best basketball minds in the history of college basketball history and he quickly turned Iona into a winner once he got there. His team is a mix of New York City recruits and under the radar JUCO transfers and he has them playing a connected style of basketball that demonstrates high level fundamentals and crafty passing and ball movement.
While Iona is a mid-major team, they have quality size across the board and will be far from an easy matchup for the Gators.
The other question for Florida, if they do choose to play, will be who is available. CJ Felder wasn’t able to play in the SEC Tournament and Anthony Duruji was considered questionable before ultimately taking the court. Jason Jitoboh is out for the season with an eye injury. Myreon Jones is nursing a broken hand that he’d love to heal fully, and Colin Castleton’s shoulder is far from 100% and he was already playing through pain. Castleton will almost certainly go pro next season, so it wouldn’t at all be surprising if he sat out the NIT in order to heal fully.
Florida fans would love to see some of the young players like Kowacie Reeves, Niels Lane, Tuon Gatkek, and Elijah Kennedy get a ton of shots, but the Gators will have to weigh that alongside trying to win.
The game will take place Wednesday at 9 PM ET and will be shown on ESPN 2.