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Florida vs. Xavier, NIT Game Thread: Gators seek season extension in Cincy

If the Gators are going to keep their season alive, they’ll have to take care of a distant mirror.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament- Florida vs Texas A&M Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A lame-duck interim coach operating under the shadow of the big-name new hire? A promising season that petered out? The Georgia Bulldogs somehow being involved?

True for both Florida and Xavier as they meet in the men’s 2022 NIT this Sunday in Cincinnati, the No. 3-seeded Gators and No. 2-seeded Musketeers each trying to have postseason success despite missing out on the NCAA Tournament and changing coaches.

But while the Gators lost Mike White to Georgia of White’s own volition — and have hired a new name, former San Francisco coach Todd Golden, to replace him — the Musketeers fired Travis Steele and have turned to a familiar face, former Xavier and Arizona coach Sean Miller, to replace their outgoing head coach.

One wonders how interim coaches Al Pinkins of Florida and Jonas Hayes of Xavier — the latter a former Georgia standout expected to be considered for White’s staff in Athens, the former ... also expected to be considered for White’s staff in Athens — feel about all that. Probably, the basketball game comes first.

In that, too, Florida and Xavier should look similar. The Gators have a big man they would like to feed in Colin Castleton; Xavier does, too, in Jack Nunge. Both teams struggle to shoot well and can struggle to score efficiently as a result, but have capable shooters (Tyree Appleby, Nate Johnson) who could take over the game.

And, honestly, both probably only win this game convincingly if the other side no-shows.

But Florida had far more success down the stretch than Xavier, which has only defeated Georgetown and Cleveland State since Valentine’s Day, and if the Gators make at least a few shots and get some easy points off steals, they should have a path to victory.

And if the Gators don’t win? Well, there will always be the in-game interview with Golden.