South Florida is not necessarily known for college basketball, but, for a few hours Saturday, the Dade-Broward area will lead the nation with three games involving ranked teams.
Two of those teams — No. 16 Florida and No. 22 Massachusetts — will be playing in the 20th annual Orange Bowl Classic at BB&T Center in Sunrise. Florida plays Fresno State at 4:30 p.m. UMass plays Florida State in the first game of the doubleheader, starting at 2 p.m.
The third game involving a ranked team is No. 6 Louisville at FIU.
Focusing on the OB Classic, Florida is the glamour team, having made it to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament three years in a row, and UMass is the biggest surprise, earning a Top 25 ranking for the first time in 15 years.
Here’s a closer look at the four teams who will compete at the BB&T Center on Saturday:
• This is the eighth OBC appearance in a row for Florida, and the Gators’ first trip down here without former Broward County star Kenny Boynton since 2008. Boynton, No. 2 on Florida’s career scoring list, is now playing pro ball in Israel.
The Gators (8-2) have done just fine without Boynton, thriving despite a tough schedule that has featured four games against top-20 opponents, including the past two in a row.
The Gators defeated No. 18 Kansas and its three projected NBA lottery picks — including potential No. 1 Andrew Wiggins — last week. On Tuesday, the Gators beat No. 15 Memphis in New York’s Madison Square Garden as part of the annual Jimmy V Classic.
Senior small forward Casey Prather led the Gators against Memphis, scoring 22 points, including Florida’s final eight points.
“I was just trying to be smart on offense and aggressive,” Prather told reporters in New York after the game.
Prather, who leads UF in scoring at 18.7 points, is rated as a possible second-round NBA Draft pick. But he is not Florida’s most high-profile player.
That would be freshman forward Chris Walker, a projected first-round pick. Walker, though, has yet to play for Florida — he is waiting to be cleared academically by the NCAA and just began practicing with the team last week.
• Fresno State (6-5), which has to face Florida, will be the biggest underdog in the tournament. Fresno is just 1-4 away from home, and half of its wins have come in overtime.
Sophomore guard Marvelle Harris (18.4 ppg.) is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, and another sophomore guard, Cezar Guerrero (14.4 ppg.), is perhaps their best prospect. Guerrero, who transferred from Oklahoma State, scored 29 points against Texas-San Antonio as a freshman, including six points in four seconds.
Fun Fresno fact: The school is the alma mater of Indiana Pacers star Paul George and Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian.
• Florida State (7-3) is coming off its highest-scoring game since 2005. It beat Charlotte 106-62, on Tuesday as sophomore guard Aaron Thomas put up a career-high 26 points.
For the season, Thomas is averaging 11.8 points. Point guard Ian Miller, a projected second-round NBA Draft pick, leads the team with a 14.9 scoring average.
FSU has a modest two-game win streak. Prior to that, it dropped three of four on a road trip that featured an overtime loss at Michigan, a one-point loss at Florida and a 10-point loss at Minnesota.
• UMass (10-0) is off to the fourth-best start in the in the 105-year history of Minutemen basketball. UMass already has beaten LSU, Boston College, Clemson, Nebraska, New Mexico and BYU.
Minutemen Coach Derek Kellogg, a former UMass point guard, has a local connection. He once served as Miami coach Jim Larrañaga’s assistant while they were at George Mason.
Chaz Williams, a 5-9 senior point guard, is a star for UMass. The former New York City and Hofstra University star is a two-time All-Atlantic 10 player who ranks third in the nation in assists (7.9).