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UCF Men’s Basketball to Face Florida in NIT

The Knights’ season isn’t over yet

Ithiel Horton and Taylor Hendricks
Photo: Noah Goldberg

Despite losing to eventual champion Memphis in the AAC Tournament, the UCF Knights Men’s Basketball team’s season is not over yet. The Knights will face the Florida Gators in the NIT first round.

Florida is a 4-seed, which effectively makes UCF a 5-seed.

Tip-off in Gainesville is set for 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday and the game will be televised on ESPN2.

UCF at the NIT

This is UCF’s third postseason trip in seven years under Johnny Dawkins. It’s also the Knights’ third-ever trip to the NIT, and the first since the 2016-17 season when the Knights beat Colorado, Illinois State (a 1-seed), and Illinois on their way to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York. UCF lost to eventual champion TCU in the semis.

The quarterfinal against Illinois was the most-attended game in Addition Financial Arena history, and the students stormed the floor after UCF beat the Illini 68-58 to go to the Garden:

UCF’s first trip to the NIT in 2012 ended in the first round at Drexel.

UCF vs. Florida

Wednesday night will mark the 12th time UCF and Florida have met on the basketball floor and the first since 2012. The Knights have won only once in the series and are 0-8 all-time in Gainesville.

The only UCF win came in 2011, when the Knights, led by A.J. Rompza, Keith Clanton, and leading scorer Marcus Jordan, beat Florida 57-54 in 2010 at the Florida Citrus Sports Shootout in the first year of the Amway Center.

However, technically, this game never happened. It was vacated as part of the sanctions UCF incurred in 2012. So according to the NCAA, UCF has never beaten Florida.

None of the 11 previous meetings have happened since UCF moved to The American from Conference USA in 2013.

About Florida

Florida comes in 16-16 and finished 8th in the SEC at 9-9. They have lost seven of their last ten, including their first game in the SEC Tournament, a 69-68 overtime loss to Mississippi State.

The Gators were 10-5 at home this year (6-3 in conference). Their best win was a 67-54 win over then-#2 Tennessee in the O’Connell Center:

Florida went to the NIT last year and went 1-1, losing to Xavier in the second round.

The Gators are coached by Todd Golden, who is in his first season in Gainesville after coming over from San Francisco (also known as The Real USF). They will be without 6-11 starting big man and leading scorer and rebounder Colin Castleton, who broke his hand against Ole Miss on February 15th. They are 2-4 without him.

What’s at Stake

Aside from the satisfaction of beating Florida, UCF could finish what has been at times a frustrating season with 20 wins for the third time in seven years and the first time since the NCAA Tournament campaign in 2018-19.

UCF is currently 18-14, so they would have to beat Florida and either 1-seed Oregon (likely in Eugene) or 8-seed UC-Irvine to get to the NIT quarters. Those two face off in Eugene on Wednesday night at 11 p.m. ET.

2023 NIT Bracket

Also of note: Johnny Dawkins won the NIT twice as head coach at Stanford in 2012 and 2015.

Should UCF repeat its feat from 2017 and make the NIT Final Four, they would travel not to Madison Square Garden, but to Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. This is the first time that the NIT’s FInal will not be held in New York, with the NCAA, who owns the NIT, deciding to put the tournament’s Final Four out for bidding, rather than continuing to host it at the place it has been since 1938.