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Florida, Butler announce men’s basketball home-and-home series

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The Gators will also take on Michigan State in Gainesville in 2018-19.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators will host college basketball titan Michigan State and longtime nemesis Butler as part of their 2018-19 non-conference schedule, the program announced Monday.

The game with Butler is part of a home-and-home series with the Bulldogs that will see the Gators travel to storied Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in 2019-20.

“We have a lot of respect for Butler, and we’re excited about this series,” head coach Mike White said. “Our goal is always to play a really tough non-conference schedule, not only to prepare our team for the SEC schedule, but also because we have great fans who deserve to see us play a high-level schedule.”

Florida is 2-1 against Butler in three all-time meetings, all of which have come in the NCAA Tournament. The Gators memorably beat the Bulldogs thanks to a Mike Miller floater in 2000, and then defeated them en route to the 2007 national championship, while Butler returned the favor with a victory in the 2011 Elite Eight.

The winner of each of those three Florida-Butler games has advanced to play for the national championship.

Florida’s Mike White and Butler’s LaVall Jordan also “announced” the home-and-home series with adorable tweets sent late Monday morning.

Florida also mentions in its release that it will conclude its home-and-home series with Michigan State with a home game against the Spartans in 2018-19 — which is technically not new information, but may be new to many fans, given how that series has been prolonged and plagued by delays.

It began in 2015-16 as the Gators lost a 58-52 rock fight in East Lansing, but the return game that would customarily have come the year after was set for 2017-18 to account for the 2016 renovation of the O’Connell Center that left the Gators playing almost all of their 2016-17 non-conference schedule away from home. Then that 2017-18 meeting got pushed back another year due to Big Ten scheduling issues.

To give you a sense of how long the series has been gestating: That home-and-home series came to be after the 2014 announcement that Florida and Michigan State had agreed to participate in an unprecedented three-city cross-country barnstorming event in December 2018 ... but while that event fell apart in the middle of the series, it is possible that a four-team tournament that has taken its place will happen before the series concludes. And the Spartans’ trip to Gainesville is now happening after the PK80 Invitational that both schools participated in in 2017, meaning that the series more than bookends one of the more ambitious undertakings in college hoops in recent memory.

It has been so long since the series was first scheduled, in fact, that both schools have since changed athletic directors — Florida’s Jeremy Foley retired, while Michigan State’s Mark Hollis resigned amidst Michigan State’s ongoing handling of its longtime employment of disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar — and that only four players who got minutes in that 2015-16 meeting could play in the 2018-19 contest.

Regardless of the strangeness of that series’ scheduling, though, the Gators continuing to schedule rigor into their non-conference clashes is yet more evidence that Florida is committed to the minutiae of being an elite men’s basketball program. And scheduling a home-and-home with Butler will allow Florida fans — many of whom have good memories of Indianapolis, given that the Gators won a national title there in 2006 — to make a pilgrimage to see their team play at one of the most sacred basketball arenas on the planet.