The Florida men’s basketball team (16-16) host the UCF Knights (18-14) on Wednesday to open NIT play.
The Gators and the Knights have faced off 11 times in history, with Florida winning 10 of the match ups. The last time they met was back in 2012 when the Gators won 79-66.
Since losing star-forward Colin Castleton to a broken hand against Ole Miss on February 15th the Gators haven’t looked the same. The Gators are 2-4 in the last six games without Castleton, with losses to Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and a first-round exit in the SEC tournament in a one point overtime loss to Mississippi State. Despite the loss of Castleton, the Gators have seen freshman Riley Kugel step into the spotlight as he is averaging 20 points a game in his last six games.
First-year head coach Todd Golden is looking for a win on Wednesday night to avoid a losing season which would be the Gators first since Billy Donovan’s last season in 2014-2015. After recent success in the NCAA Tournament the Gators find themselves in the NIT Tournament for the second season in a row. The Gators look to continue success at home going 10-6 this season, winning their last match up in the O’Connell Center against SEC rival LSU.
Florida has not seen an NIT first round exit since the 1998 season. The Gators have made it to the second round of the tournament the last four times they have been selected, and making it to the quarterfinals three times in 2008, 2009, and in 2016.
We've got more postseason basketball ahead of us!
Heading up to Gainesville for the first round of the NIT ⚔️ #ChargeOn pic.twitter.com/KRXHoVkSBq
— UCF Men’s Hoops (@UCF_MBB) March 13, 2023
The Knights are looking to pick-up a huge road win over Florida, UCF is currently 4-6 on the road and have never beaten the Gators in Gainesville.
The Knights finished conference play 8-10 in their last season in the American Athletic Conference before a transition to the Big 12 on July 1. UCF lost in the conference quarterfinals to Memphis by five points, a fitting way to end conference play which has seen many of their games come down to the wire.
The Knights have been led by freshman forward Taylor Hendricks who averages 15 points a game for the Knights. Hendricks has surprised in what could be a one and done season for the freshman, he has recently emerged as a top pick candidate for the NBA Draft set to take place in June. Johnny Dawkins is in his seventh year as the Knights coach but hasn’t seen much success leading the Knights to two NIT appearances and one NCAA appearance back in 2018-2019. This NIT tournament could be a make or break for Dawkins with fans starting to get upset after not having a winning conference record in five of the last seven seasons.
Tip off Wednesday is at 7 p.m. and you can hear it on ESPN 98.1 FM/850 AM WRUF..