Florida will play West Virginia on January 30 in Gainesville in the 2016 SEC/Big 12 Challenge, the school 2015 NCAA Tournament before being annihilated by Kentucky in a 78-39 blowout. (That margin of victory was tied with ones posted in immolations of UCLA and Missouri for Kentucky's best against a power conference team in 2014-15.) The Sweet Sixteen was the program's first since 2010, when it made the Final Four before falling to Duke.
That came two years after current Florida assistant Darris Nichols's final season with the Mountaineers; his game against them will be his first such meeting with his alma mater as an assistant.
The best matchup for any SEC team in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge is Kansas, which annually plays one of the nation's toughest schedules, and provides a massive RPI boost even if it beats its foe. After finishing a home-and-home series with Kansas in 2014, Florida was due to have a new opponent — and West Virginia, one of just two Big 12 teams to make the Sweet Sixteen in 2015, is not a bad consolation prize.
It's hard to pick a Big 12 team Florida could have been paired with that will definitely be better than West Virginia, which loses only leading scorer Juwan Staten, next season: Oklahoma, the league's other 2015 Sweet Sixteen participant and LSU's opponent in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, returns nearly every contributor from last season, and is likely to be better than the Mountaineers, but not a lock; Baylor (which meets Georgia) is losing two starters; Iowa State (playing Texas A&M) might yet lose Fred Hoiberg; and Texas (playing Vanderbilt) has a new system to install under Shaka Smart. The rest of the league is even less certain to be good.
West Virginia typically plays decent non-conference schedules under Bob Huggins — last year, the Mountaineers met Connecticut, N.C. State, and Wofford — so there are no real RPI worries to be had here, like there might be with, say, Texas Tech and TCU, teams that will have to schedule poorer programs to get non-conference wins. And the Florida-Texas matchup that looms eventually as a meeting of the two leagues' most well-rounded schools will be better in future years, anyway.
So bring on the 'Eers, I say.