GAINESVILLE — When Florida and Syracuse meet in the Big East/ SEC Invitational on Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, area fans will have an opportunity to see a matchup of two Top 10 teams.
Florida rose to No. 10 in the AP men's basketball poll released Monday, while Syracuse is No. 7. Both are 8-0. Thursday's doubleheader features DePaul vs. Mississippi State at 6:30 p.m., followed by UF vs. Syracuse at 9. The games will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN, respectively.
UF coach Billy Donovan said the game is another example of quality basketball that fans statewide have had an opportunity to be a part of lately.
"I think it's good for the state," Donovan said Monday. "I also think what's been good for the state is you look at Florida State having a pretty good year, and they won a tournament in Orlando. You look at South Florida, which is off to a pretty good start; Jacksonville is picked to win their league; Miami has done well. The fact that we're playing a game against Syracuse, in Tampa, a team that's playing very well, I think all those things are positive for basketball in the state of Florida."
Interest in the event has increased since the Gators joined the Top 25 rankings last week, and organizers are hoping for a large turnout.
"We're looking forward to a great atmosphere Thursday night," said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. "To be able to bring a doubleheader of this nature to downtown Tampa is paramount to the continued success of our sports community. And for ESPN to have the confidence to choose us the night after a similar event in Madison Square Garden (Wednesday), for Tampa to be mentioned in the same sentence is an honor."
The status of UF sophomore F Kenny Kadji and sophomore G/F Ray Shipman is unknown. Kadji has a lower-back injury, and Shipman has a mid-foot sprain. Both had MRI exams Monday.
Tickets cost $40, $25 and $15 (ticketmaster.com). For information on the tournament, go to secbigeastinvitational.com.
Gators honored: A league-high 11 UF football players were named to the 2009 AP All-SEC team Monday, including six first-team selections and an honorable mention for junior S Ahmad Black. It is the eighth season UF has had 10 or more AP selections.
Senior QB Tim Tebow picked up his third consecutive first-team honor, joined by junior OL Mike Pouncey and OL Maurkice Pouncey, junior TE Aaron Hernandez, CB Joe Haden and DE Carlos Dunlap.
Clearwater WR Riley Cooper earned his first All-SEC selection and is joined on the second team by DE Jermaine Cunningham and LB Brandon Spikes. Spikes was a first-team selection in 2007 and 2008. For the full list, see For The Record, 5C.
Volleyball's huge challenge: The UF volleyball team will make its 18th appearance in an NCAA region semifinal in the past 19 years this weekend, but getting to next week's Final Four in Tampa will be a monumental task.
No. 14 Florida (25-5) hosts No. 1 Penn State (34-0) at 6 p.m. Friday at the O'Connell Center. The Nittany Lions are two-time defending national champions and have a Division I record 98-match winning streak.
"We know this is a huge challenge for us to play the likes of this Penn State team," UF coach Mary Wise said. "Ninety-eight straight wins is a record that speaks volumes to how talented this Penn State team is. And it's not like they haven't been road tested the past three years; they are just that good. …There are many who think this is the best volleyball team of all time, and that's who we get to play."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.