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Florida to open 2015-16 basketball schedule at Navy in Veterans Classic

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The Gators are beginning their season on the road.

A game at Navy should bring out the families of Virginians Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson.
A game at Navy should bring out the families of Virginians Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Programs like Florida generally don't open their football or men's basketball schedules on the road — and even if they do, it's for a special event at a neutral, like a game on a freaking boat, or one in Cowboys Stadium.

But that's what the Gators will do this fall, playing Navy at Navy in the 2015 Veterans Classic, the school announced on Monday morning.

Florida has agreed to play Navy as part of the Veterans Classic on Friday, Nov. 13, at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Florida’s last season opener on the road was the 2000-01 season when the Gators topped Florida State in Tallahassee.

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"This event is a unique opportunity for our team not just on the court, but it’s a chance for our guys to interact with people their age who are leading a really special way of life in service to our country"" head coach Billy Donovan said. "The qualities that the Naval Academy represents – duty, honor and loyalty – are characteristics that we can all aspire to living out. I know this will be an outstanding experience to tip off our season."

The Veterans Classic is in just its second year, but it's quickly becoming a destination for high-major teams: Michigan State took down Navy in one of two games last year, with VCU topping Tennessee in the other one. This year, North Carolina and Temple will meet in the Classic's first game; Navy-Florida is the nightcap.

The problem — if there is a problem with the Gators playing a road game on national TV to begin a season — is that Navy is almost certain to be an anchor on Florida's RPI next year. The Midshipmen finished 250th in the statistic in 2014-15, and lose seniors Worth Smith (that's a real name) and Brandon Venturini, the only two players to score more than 10 points per game for Navy last year.

Navy coach Ed DeChellis did steer the Mids to their first 10-win season since 2011 last year, but this team Florida plays is not likely to be a good team, and isn't likely to be good enough to significantly help Florida's RPI by season's end.

That doesn't mean the Gators are a shoo-in to win: Navy was within three against Michigan State in the final two minutes last year, and the Spartans would eventually win by just five. But it does mean a win might be less valuable than the experience of being at the Naval Academy for several days — or, for senior-to-be Dorian Finney-Smith and sophomore-to-be Devin Robinson, getting to play a game in Maryland, not far from their Virginia homes.