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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Florida men’s basketball cracks AP Top 25 and hosts Milwaukee

The newly ranked Gators welcome the Panthers to Gainesville Thursday

Florida's Colin Castleton dribbles the ball and fends off a Florida State defender during the Gators win over the Seminoles on Nov. 14.
Florida's Colin Castleton dribbles the ball and fends off a Florida State defender during the Gators win over the Seminoles on Nov. 14.

The Gators win over rival Florida State Sunday was monumental. 

The 71-55 victory ended a seven-year losing streak to the then-No. 20 Seminoles. The last time Florida topped its in-state foe was in 2013 that squad went on to advance all the way to the Final Four. 

Head coach Mike White happily rejoiced in his first triumph over the Seminoles with his team. He said the performance was gritty and full of heart. 

“We need to celebrate those moments as much as possible,” White said. “But, again, you’ve got to handle success the right way, and that’s where our focus and our attention moved toward.”

A matchup with the Milwaukee Panthers (1-1) is on tap for White’s team this Thursday at 6 p.m. inside the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. 

The Gators took Monday off and then were right back to practice. On the off day, Florida moved inside the Associated Press top 25, coming in at No. 24. 

The most recent time AP ranked the Gators came last season. Following a road win over then-No. 11 West Virginia during the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Florida jumped into the poll at No. 22. The success was short-lived, however, and a 4-point loss to unranked South Carolina the next game dropped Florida from the rankings after a single week. 

During his tenure, White has stressed that the outside perception of his team doesn’t and will never matter to him.

“[Being ranked] is completely irrelevant to me,” White said Wednesday. “It has no bearing on how good of a season we have, how well we play against Milwaukee, how we do in the SEC. It has no bearing on our growth, which is our daily goal.”

Florida and Milwaukee have only met once before in a setting far more intense than fans can expect in Gainesville Thursday night. 

In 2006, during the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 3 seed Gators routed the No. 11 seed Panthers, 82-60. Forward Corey Brewer paced Florida with 23 points, and center Joakim Noah added 17 more. Billy Donovan’s team would go on to secure UF’s first national title just a few games later. 

The 2021 showdown features a Gators squad riding high. Florida carriesan undefeated 2-0 record into the game and seeks to secure more momentum before the upcoming Fort Myers Tip-Off. 

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[Milwaukee is] sound and physical, they get after you,” White said. “They hold opponents to 34 percent from the field. They’re a good team.” 

Panthers guard Patrick Baldwin Jr. stands 6-foot-9 and averages a double-double on the young season. His 20 points and 10.5 rebounds per game are both team-leading. He was ranked as the eighth-best player in the 2021 recruiting class, according to 247Sports and is expected to be an NBA lottery pick, according to Krysten Peak of Yahoo Sports.

“Baldwin seems like a great player,” Florida guard Myreon Jones said. “Seems like he handles the ball a lot. I’m not used to, you know, people his size, like his height, on the ball that much. We just have to lock into him.”

Colin Castleton and Anthony Duruji are the Gators’ glue. The frontcourt duo has combined to average 28 points, 17.5 rebounds and 7.5 blocks per game this season. Castleton was especially dominant against FSU, his double-double earning him SEC Player of the Week honors. 

The opening tip between Florida and the Panthers is set for Thursday at 6 p.m. The game is available to be streamed on SEC Network+. 

Contact Joseph Henry at Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.

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Joseph Henry

Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper. 

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