UF-Syracuse set

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ESPN has set the start time of Florida’s SEC-Big East Challenge game against Syracuse.

The game will tip-off at 9 p.m. on Dec. 10 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa and will air on ESPN. Mississippi State and DePaul will play the previous game of the doubleheader at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

Tickets for the game are expected to go on sale in early September. For more info, visit http://www.secbigeastinvitational.com

Had a chance to catch up with Syracuse Jim Boeheim last week at the AAU Championships outside Orlando. The Orange beat out Florida on the Fab Melo recruiting sweepstakes, but the Brazilian 7-footer won’t be suiting up until 2010-11.

In the meantime, Boeheim has concenrs about his club. The Orange lost four starters, including star point guard Jonny Flynn, from a team that reached the Sweet 16 last season.

Florida lost All-SEC point guard Nick Calathes but returns 10 of 13 players.

Syracuse’s lone returning starter, center Arinze Onuaku, had his way inside with 13 points and 12 rebounds when Syracuse beat Florida 89-83 at the CBI Classic in Kansas City, Mo., last season.

“We’ve both kind of lost a little bit,” Boeheim said. “We might have lost more than they have. It should be a good game.”

Boeheim chuckled when asked when he remembered coaching against Florida coach Billy Donovan when he was a player at Providence.

“Billy is a good friend of mine and he’s done such a good job,” Boeheim said. “We had a great game against them last year. We played just a little bit better. I’ve always been amazed at the job he’s been able to do at Florida.”

Boeheim also offered some interesting perspective on Florida’s recent back-to-back NIT appearances. Syracuse went through a similar recent rebuilding phase, going to back-to-back NITs in 2006 and 2007 before returning to the NCAA Tournament last season.

“I’ve a had few valleys,” Boeheim said. “It happens. You’re just a game or two away.”

Here’s some more perspective, Boeheim has led the Orange to three Final Fours and one national title in 32 seasons at Syracuse. Donovan has led the Gators to three Final Fours and two national titles in 13 years at Florida.

So anyone suggesting that Donovan’s star is falling has little understanding of the competitive nature of college basketball.

“There are so many good teams where once you get by the first 15 or 20 teams that are really good, there are whole a bunch of teams that are all the same, almost,” Beoheim said. “It’s really literally one play or one game that keeps you from being in the tournament.

“And you’re going to go through that. Almost no program, with maybe one or two exceptions, is going to not have the bump when you’re in the NIT. It’s just the nature of the game. In our league (Big East), Georgetown is a Final Four, Sweet 16, and the NIT this year.”

Asked how the down periods can impact recruiting, Boeheim replied:  “Actually, it might help recruiting, because kids think they need players there.”

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