Ohio State, Florida, Seton Hall could all be ranked leading into Fort Myers Tip-Off

Alex Martin
Fort Myers News-Press

It was hard to build off of last year's Fort Myers Tip-Off, which featured Gonzaga, Kansas, Auburn, and St. Joe's.

This season, there's a chance that three teams enter Suncoast Credit Union Arena with a ranking next to their names, something that has never happened in the four-year history of the tournament.

Florida, Ohio State, and Seton Hall will headline the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off, which starts Monday at Florida SouthWestern State College. Cal (2-2) is also a part of this year's field in the Beach Division.

"It’s one of the reasons I like doing it," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "You get some time together, some time away from campus and you’re also playing some really good teams. All those things are benefits. A chance to get away. Here, it’s a good thing too because it gives us a chance to get away.

Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) blocks a shot by Xavier Musketeers guard Paul Scruggs (1) in the first half of the NCAA basketball game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

"There’s an attention level that gets ramped up here in terms of basketball as we get into January when football ends. Right now having an opportunity to get away and spend some time together and play good teams is a good thing."

E.J. Liddell entered this season as a Preseason All-Big Ten first-team selection. Liddell is averaging 21 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, and 2.8 assists per game for the Buckeyes.

Florida looked like it wouldn't be ranked entering the tournament, and neither did Seton Hall. But the Gators' huge win over in-state ranked rival Florida State on Nov. 14 kickstarted Mike White's team.

University of Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) celebrates a play near the Florida bench during a game against the Milwaukee Panthers, at Exactech Arena in Gainesville Nov. 18, 2021. The Gators won 81-45 over the Panthers.

Florida followed that performance up by having no issues with potential lottery pick Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Milwaukee, routing the Panthers 81-45 four days later thanks to a double-double from Colin Castleton, who finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He has back-to-back double-doubles this season.

"It's a great chance to test ourselves against high-level competition in a tournament environment," White said about the tournament. "We're really excited about the opportunity and about seeing some of those Gator fans from another part of the state that we don't normally get to see as much."

The Pirates' big win over No. 4 Michigan on the road in the Crisler Center puts Seton Hall in a position to be inside the Top 25. Should the Pirates beat Ohio State in the first round, they'd likely be looking at Florida for the championship.

Seton Hall's Bryce Aiken celebrates the 67-65 win over Michigan on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, at Crisler Center.

“I think we have one of the deepest backcourts in the country and they’re right there with us," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "They have a lot of interchangeable players who are all skilled. E.J. Liddell is vastly improved from last year; he’s playing with great confidence in his shot and he’s able to go down low, too.

“I would say they’re even more physical than Michigan, and that’s hard to say.”

Fort Myers Tip-Off Schedule

Monday, Nov. 22

Beach Division: Ohio State vs. Seton Hall, 6 p.m.

Beach Division: Florida vs. Cal, 8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 23

Palms Division: Southern Utah vs. Yale, noon

Palms Division: Milwaukee vs. Bowling Green, 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 24

Palms Division: Third-Place Game, 11 a.m.

Palms Division: Championship Game, 1:30 p.m.

Beach Division: Third-Place Game, 6 p.m.

Beach Division: Championship Game, 8:30 p.m.