Typically, any sort of showdown between the Miami Hurricanes and the Florida Gators is cause for trash talking, caravaning, tailgaiting, and more than a few divorces. Tonight, however, the schools meet in Gainesville for the second round of March Sadness -- commonly known as the NIT. Does anyone even care?
"Not really!" replies most of the state, as they quickly turn their heads back toward their bracket pool standings and pirated feeds of NCAA games on work computers. In fact, most fans of teams in the NIT can usually be found doing anything but watching basketball, like knitting or batting about shiny objects. Staring into space is a common side effect.
Well, the players care, even if their fans are off enjoying their office bracket pools. ''Our goal is to get to New York,'' Miami forward Dwayne Collins said. "A lot of teams might not want to play, but we all look at it like we want to keep playing. This is our chance at redemption.'' (By redemption, he surely means "coming in 65th place.")
Audience or no, both programs are hoping to rub a little balm on a smarting season. Florida is in the process of finding itself again after back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, and the 'Canes have struggled to live up to expectations after an NCAA appearance in 2008. But both have bright spots in the play of their guards: Miami's Jack McClinton had a return to form in the first round victory at Providence with 7 three-pointers, and says his knee is finally healing from a sprain. Florida's sophomore guard Nick Calathes is the only player in the nation averaging better than 15 points, five rebounds and six assists.
The 'Canes and Gators haven't faced off on the hardwood since 2005, so a statement is still possible -- even if its effects are more of a whimper. That no one hears.