Gators playing for another trip to New York tonight
The Florida men's basketball team is one win away from a second-straight trip to New York for the final four of the National Invitation Tournament, but if you're wondering if that makes up for not making the field of 64 in the NCAA Tournament, the answer is no.
At least that's what coach Billy Donovan said, in a rambling sort of way, on Monday.
"I don't know if anything ever takes up for it (another disappointment),'' Donovan said. "We lost a heartbreaker at South Carolina and beat Vandy on the road the next game. Does that make up for South Carolina, hmmm probably not. This is where we're at. We're at this point (NIT). The biggest thing in life is how do you learn and grow. I don't think any of our coaches are going to sit and say, 'Well, you know what, we're fortunate to beat Penn State, therefore we're back to the same point we were last year, this is really, really good.'
The Gators will host Penn State today at 9 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN.
The Nittany Lions should pose the toughest challenge of Florida's opponents to date in this tournament. Penn State's wins this season include games against No. 9 Michigan State, No. 14 Purdue and twice against No. 18 Illinois.
"They are a very, very good team that probably could have made an argument to get into the NCAA tournament,'' Donovan said. "They've played very well and had a winning record in a good conference whose RPI was very high.''
As for the Gator players, they seem to have bought into Donovan's idea that the best way to live life is in the moment. And, at this moment, they are still among the teams playing in the NIT. So they are trying to make the best of it.
"If we're going to be in it, let's win it,'' sophomore guard Nick Calathes said. "We'd love to go to the Final Four, obviously.''
Florida's first two NIT games drew 4,300 and a little over 6,000 respectively, which means Florida fans aren't really that impressed with the Gators in their second NIT. But Donovan looks at it a little differently, as you might expect.
"I think our guys in a lot of respects have overachieved in some ways and the biggest challenge for them as young kids is the expectation level of what's happened here in the past,'' he said. "But you've also got to look at this group and what they have been able to do as a team. And although it may not be at the expectation level of some previous teams, they are trying to get to that point, but they aren't there. These guys have won 25 games and done a pretty good job. And I understand that the measuring stick for any program is the NCAA Tournament and getting in, having a chance to move on and advance. But also at the same time, 25 games at this point in the season is a lot of basketball games. And I don't think that one game, win or lose, all of a sudden changes the course of the year. These guys are young kids, trying to grow and mature and evolve into the team they want to be.''