Florida will travel to Oklahoma to play the Sooners as part of next season's Big 12/SEC Challenge, according to a report by CBS Sports basketball writer Jon Rothstein.
Oklahoma will host Florida in next year's Big 12/SEC Challenge, sources told @CBSSports.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 23, 2016
While this is obviously just a report, rather than an announcement, Rothstein also spent Monday evening tweeting out every other matchup from the Big 12/SEC Challenge, so we can probably take it as a very reliable report.
In Oklahoma, the Gators would get arguably the most accomplished team they have faced in the three years of the inter-conference clash, following the Kansas team it fell to in Lawrence in December 2014. That Jayhawks squad was coming off an exit in the 2014 NCAA Tournament's second round — one that scuttled a possible rematch with No. 1 overall seed Florida in the Elite Eight — but would go on to be a No. 2 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
In the 2015-16 season, the conferences moved the event to a single day, January 30, in an effort to increase interest in the matchups. Florida played West Virginia, which was a top-10 team at the time, and had made the Sweet Sixteen in 2015. The Gators' 88-71 demolition of the Mountaineers was arguably their best day of their first season under Mike White, though it didn't help Florida return to the NCAA Tournament; West Virginia would make the field, but fell to Stephen F. Austin in its opening game.
The Sooners, meanwhile, went to the Final Four, behind a show-stopping four-game performance from Buddy Hield, before suffering the worst Final Four beatdown in history at the hands of eventual national champion Villanova. While they won't have Hield, Isaiah Cousins, or Ryan Spangler in 2016-17, the Sooners should be in NCAA Tournament contention, so long as Jordan Woodard continues the excellent play that made him a fine complement to Hield at the point and Khadeem Lattin continues to blossom into an interior force.
The most obvious subplot in the game is the man who should be coaching the Sooners on the day of the game. Lon Kruger has led Oklahoma to four NCAA Tournaments in five seasons since decamping UNLV for Norman in 2011, putting him in the rarefied air of coaches who have led five programs to the NCAA Tournament. But his Final Four appearance was only his second, and came 22 years after his first — with Florida.
Kruger's path has crossed Florida's just once since his 1996 departure for Illinois, which cleared the way for Jeremy Foley to hire Billy Donovan. And it's safe to say the Gators were pleased with the result of that game — a 93-76 skunking of Kruger's Illini in the second round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament — just like they have been with what ultimately happened after Kruger took them to previously unseen heights.
But there remains plenty of love in college basketball and in Gainesville for Kruger, renowned as one of the nicest people in coaching, and it will be interesting to see how the story of coach and program parted is told when they get together again.