Florida will take the court as a nationally ranked team for the first time in two years when the No. 24 Gators visit North Florida on Thursday night at UNF Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.
Florida (6-1) is off to a hot start in its second season under coach Mike White. The excitement is building as the Gators prepare to play No. 5 Duke at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
North Florida (3-5) is struggling a bit after posting back-to-back 20-win seasons under coach Matthew Driscoll. The Ospreys earned an NCAA Tournament bid in 2014-15 and reached the NIT last season.
Article continues below ...
Florida broke into this week's Top 25 following a strong showing at the AdvoCare Invitational. The Gators beat Seton Hall 81-76, suffered a narrow 77-72 loss to Gonzaga, which is now ranked No. 8, and beat Miami 65-56.
“This was a high-level tournament,” White said. “We're fortunate to come away with two wins. And we know a lot more about ourselves than we did last week.”
This is Florida's first appearance in the national rankings since early in the 2014-15 season, when the Gators dropped out after losing four key players from the 2014 Final Four team.
In Florida's win over Miami, Keith Stone demonstrated that he could be a key player in the future. The redshirt freshman forward posted 15 points and a team-high eight rebounds against the Hurricanes after scoring a total of six points on 2-of-13 shooting from the field and 0-of-6 shooting from 3-point range over the first six games.
“We knew at some point he was going to kind of settle in and provide some production and earn more minutes,” White said. “We saw glimpses of what he can potentially be for this team — a very good player.”
KeVaughn Allen leads the Gators in scoring at 13.4 points per game. Canyon Berry is averaging 12.1 points and 4.3 rebounds. Devin Robinson averages 12 points and 5.6 rebounds. John Egbunu is averaging 9.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots.
North Florida is coming off back-to-back losses at the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic in Dayton, Ohio. The Ospreys beat North Dakota 76-75 in the opening round and suffered a 77-54 loss to Cal State Bakersfield before falling 75-67 to host Wright State in the championship game.
“We showed a great deal of grit and character fighting back tonight,” North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said following the loss to Wright State. “After our disappointing performance (against Cal State Bakersfield) last night, it was good to see the guys battle and compete after a quick turnaround and against the home team in a tournament championship game.”
Dallas Moore was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 22.3 points in three games. He had 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting against Wright State. Moore is averaging 19.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
“Dallas was phenomenal running the team and demonstrated great ability to score at a high level,” Driscoll said. “His selection to the all-tournament team just showed why he is one of the best players in the country.”