Florida basketball notebook: Virginia among canceled games amid COVID-19 issues, Gators earn honors

By Jake Winderman
November 24, 2020
Florida basketball notebook: Virginia among canceled games amid COVID-19 issues, Gators earn honors

Image Credit: @GatorsMBK on Twitter

Just days before the Florida Gators men’s basketball team was set to begin the 2020-21 season, it faced a reality that has felt all too familiar across college sports. The Gators announced Sunday that they have decided to cancel their first two nonconference games for COVID-19 related reasons.

“The Florida men’s basketball team has paused team activities for one week due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing protocols. The Gators will not play this week’s scheduled games vs. UMass Lowell and Virginia,” the program explained.

Florida was set to tip off the 2020-21 campaign at the Basketball Hall of Fame Bubbleville multi-team event at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. It was to face UMass Lowell on Wednesday then turn around and play No. 4 Virginia on Friday to cap the Northeast romp.

By not playing, the Gators will miss not only a tune-up game that would have allowed them to adjust to the newer, fast-paced offense in a live situation but also a key nonconference game against a top-five team in the nation at the start of the season.

In terms of building an NCAA Tournament resume — and doing so for most teams this year will be difficult given the unknowns of COVID-19 — not playing the Virginia game will hurt Florida the most. A victory over the Cavaliers would’ve guaranteed the Gators a Quadrant I win on their nonconference resume and gone a long way in validating the new offense head coach Mike White has installed this season.

Virginia represented one of Florida’s seven scheduled games against Preseason AP Top 25 teams along with No. 10 Kentucky (two meetings), No. 12 Tennessee (two meetings), No. 15 West Virginia and No. 21 Florida State. The contest was also one of its seven scheduled games against teams ranked in the top 20 of KenPom’s preseason rankings, a metric that has a heavy influence on the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s decisions for the postseason.

What’s next? The Gators will look to clear COVID-19 protocols and open their season on the road next Wednesday, Dec. 2 against the Oklahoma Sooners. Former Florida head coach Lon Kruger is 1-1 against UF since taking over at OU and has the Sooners ranked 33rd headed into the 2020-21 season on KenPom.

Preseason awards: Junior forward Keyontae Johnson was selected as the Preseason SEC Play of the Year and placed on the Preseason First Team All-SEC by the media, while the coaches also placed Johnson on their first team. Sophomore guard Scottie Lewis was given a second-team pick by the coaches after ending the 2019-20 season on the SEC All-Freshman team.

Early love: There was no expectation that Florida would be among the top 25 teams in the nation entering the 2020-21 season, but there does seem to be a belief that the Gators will be good this year. Florida placed as the T27 overall team in the AP Top 25 with 69 voting points and solo 27th team in the Coaches Poll with 52 points. The Gators are also ranked 24th in the KenPom.com preseason ratings.

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