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Despite being unranked, FSU/UF a compelling matchup

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Tuesday is a huge day in college basketball. Eight teams ranked the Associated Press Top 25 are in action, including top-ranked Michigan State and No. 13 Miami, who hosts Princeton.

One of the best games between unranked teams tips off at 7 p.m. in Gainesville. Florida (8-3) and Florida State (9-2) meet on the basketball hardwood for the 67th time.

It is a big enough game for ESPN2 to dispatch PTPer (Prime Time Player) Dick Vitale as part of the broadcast team. Vitale should have the chance to offer a colorful remark or two over a spectacular play from either team.

That play might come from one of FSU’s freshman guard tandem of Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon, who can both score from inside and outside. Maybe Florida’s front line of Dorian Finney-Smith, John Egbunu and Devin Robinson, who can dominate at times, will make a SportsCenter top 10 play.

Billy Donovan is has left for the NBA, so Gators’ Coach Mike White is on the bench for his first rivalry game against Florida State. It’s not the first time he has coached against Leonard Hamilton. While at Louisiana Tech, White’s Bulldogs defeated FSU in the first round of the 2013 NIT, 71-66.

Hamilton and the Seminoles returned the favor in the 2014 NIT quarterfinals, 78-75. Both games were played in Tallahassee.

Tuesday’s game is, of course, a rivalry matchup, but both teams are looking to get ready for their respective conference openers by playing a quality opponent. The Gators’ three losses have come against three top 15 teams in Purdue, on a neutral court, as well as Michigan State and Miami on the road.

Florida played all three very tough and White looks forward to seeing his team perform against a team like the Seminoles at home. The students are away for the holiday and semester break, but enough locals should fill most of the vacated seats.

“It’s a game at home, a team that beat us last year,” White said. “So I just think there’s already enough incentive.”

Hamilton is looking beyond the rivalry and more for composure from his team as they journey into the most hostile environment they will have faced up to this point. FSU lost its only true road game to Iowa, 78-75 in overtime on Dec. 3.

“Even though it’s a rivalry game, there are more ramifications that are greater than the rivalry,” Hamilton said. “UF is more ACC-caliber than some of the other teams we’ve played. I’m not sure it’s about the rivalry.”

The quality of play early on could be a question. Both teams have not played for at least one week.

Florida has been off since their 89-65 win over Jacksonville on Dec. 22. Florida State has not played since an uninspiring 75-64 win over College of Charleston on Dec. 21.

The Seminoles have had a difficult time in Gainesville, to say the least. They have won at the O’Connell Center only twice since 1983. Hamilton’s only victory there during his 14 seasons was a 65-51 win on Dec. 23, 2007.

Florida leads the all-time series 43-23 and holds a 21-6 advantage in Gainesville. Florida State won last year’s game in Tallahassee, 65-63 when Gator forward Jacob Kurtz accidentally tipped in a Devon Bookert desperation shot with four-tenths of a second left.

Vitale was not in Tallahassee for that game, but if something equally crazy decides Tuesday’s game, viewers will be able to hear him even in the state capital.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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