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High-flying ‘Noles, road warrior Gators offer entertaining basketball

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While their bowl games are still about three weeks away, the athletic departments at both Florida and Florida State each have other quality products to showcase. Each of their men’s basketball teams have something to prove in 2016-17.

At the top of the to-do list is making the NCAA Tournament, something that has eluded both. Florida has missed the Big Dance the last two seasons while Florida State is enduring a four-year drought.

The Gators have been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for most of the season. This week, they came in just a few votes behind No. 25 Cincinnati. The Seminoles started the season there, fell out, and then returned this week at No. 23.

What is remarkable is the fact Florida has not played a home game yet this season and will not until December 21. The Stephen C. O’Connell Center is undergoing extensive renovations, forcing the Gators to play their games at other venues.

They have played in Jacksonville, Lakeland, Orlando, Tampa and next week in Sunrise. They played Duke in New York City and had true road games against FSU and North Florida.

On December 21, Florida will unveil what will be known as Exactech Arena at Stephen C. O’Connell Center when Little Rock comes to Gainesville.

After Sunday’s 83-78 loss to FSU in Tallahassee on Sunday, Florida dropped to 7-3. The losses have come against No. 5 Duke, No. 8 Gonzaga and FSU.

“We can sit here and complain about having to play on the road,” said Florida Coach Mike White. “I’m pretty happy we get to play on the road in the fall because that means we are about to move into a beautiful new facility. Also, it gives you advantages, opportunities to grow, to become more cohesive as we’re traveling and coming together.”

White is now in his second year and has some experienced players. Seniors Justin Leon and Kasey Hill are joined by juniors Devin Robinson and John Egbunu. Canyon Berry joins the team as a graduate transfer from the College of Charleston along with highly touted freshman Eric Hester.

On the other hand, Florida State has played eight of their 11 games at home in the Donald L. Tucker Center. Two games were in Brooklyn, NY and one in Washington, DC.

The Seminoles were ranked 25th when they let an 18-point, second half lead get away against Temple. Following Sunday’s close win over the Gators in Tallahassee, FSU stands at 10-1.

FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton is blessed to have some experience and some gifted players on his roster. Sophomore Dwayne Bacon and Freshman Jonathan Isaac are elite talents. Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Terrance Mann add skill and experience in the backcourt.

“We are going to be playing even faster this year,” said Bacon shortly before the season began. “We’ve got guys that can run the floor and the big guys can get up and down.”

While that is true, FSU is paying closer attention to its defense and it is making a difference.

(It should not be forgotten that both schools have outstanding women’s basketball teams as well.)

Florida State opens conference play on December 28 at home against Wake Forest while the Gators open on the road (of course) on December 29 at Arkansas.

The football Seminoles take on Michigan in the Orange Bowl on December 30 while Florida faces Iowa in the Outback Bowl on January 2.

It will then be OK to focus on basketball full time.


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

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