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Florida to meet West Virginia in 2018 Jimmy V Classic

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The Gators will hope to make a triumphant return to Madison Square Garden.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Wisconsin vs Florida Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators will make a return trip to the Jimmy V Classic — and Madison Square Garden — in 2018.

Florida will participate in the annual showcase event this fall, making its first sojourn back to the house where Chris Chiozza’s Madison Square Miracle happened in the 2017 NCAA Tournament since then, the school announced Wednesday.

“The Jimmy V Classic is a special event, and we’re really excited for Florida to be part of it again,” head coach Mike White said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to play a high-level opponent in one of the best basketball venues in the world. Beyond the court, the work that the V Foundation does to fund cancer research is so important, and we’re glad the Gators can have a role in helping support that mission.”

Weirdly, none of the aspects of this trip will be new for White, despite 2018-19 being only his fourth season at Florida. The Gators shellacked West Virginia in Gainesville in the winter of 2016 as part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, and played in the Jimmy V Classic in the fall of 2016, dropping a close contest to Duke at Madison Square Garden. And the Gators’ 2017 NCAA Tournament road running through Madison Square Garden means that Florida will play at the hallowed New York City arena — whose iconic lighting and staging were cues for Florida’s recently renovated O’Connell Center — in three consecutive calendar years.

That’s something that few collegiate teams outside of the Big East get to do.

Duke, which has made the tri-state area a second home for the last quarter-century and has routinely played road games against St. John’s — which calls MSG home — has not been there as often as Florida has since 2016, despite meeting the Gators there in the 2016 Jimmy V Classic. Duke was placed in the same East Regional as the Gators in 2017, but failed to make the Sweet Sixteen, and the Blue Devils did not play at the Garden between that 2016 meeting with Florida and a 2018 road loss against St. John’s, with the ACC Tournament being held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn over the last two years.

Connecticut, long a Big East mainstay before its departure for the American Athletic Conference, has played at MSG once in each of the last three seasons — and will thus need to make another appearance there for a non-conference game this fall to have played exactly as many games at the Garden as Florida has since 2016 after the 2018-19 season.

Even the Big East teams that travel to St. John’s once annually and play Big East Tournament games at MSG have only played there slightly more often than Florida of late.

The oddity and cool of that aside, though, adding West Virginia — especially Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” version of the Mountaineers — to Florida’s 2018-19 schedule, which already included announced home dates with Michigan State and Butler and a stint at the Battle 4 Atlantis, and presumably includes a road trip to Florida State, is yet more evidence that the Gators will schedule as aggressively as possible under White, continuing a trend established in Billy Donovan’s final years.

And playing a tough non-conference slate in college basketball is quite often a ticket to success — or, at minimum, no major obstacle in the pursuit of greatness. Florida’s double duty in the 2018 Battle 4 Atlantis and 2018 Jimmy V Classic, after all, comes one year after another team pulled the same feat.

That team was Villanova, 2018’s national champion.