The Undercard?

Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton would prefer to keep his team away from playing the role of the undercard or sideshow attraction.

His counterpart, Florida's Billy Donovan, says that the annual hardwood meeting between his Gators and the rival Seminoles has place as part of an "exciting" weekend that includes the football game.

After a one-year removal from its place on the eve of the gridiron clash, the game is back at its traditional spot. A pair of youthful squads will square off when FSU (2-0) meets No. 14 Florida (4-0) tonight at the O'Connell Center.

"Having a great rivalry on campus in basketball with football is a great thing," Donovan said. "Florida State's feeling is that they don't like that. They want to separate it. I understand that. Everyone has their opinion."

The added excitement, Donovan says, is a plus. So is the early-season exposure, something his surprising Gators received a huge dose of last week with consecutive wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse in the 2K Coaches' vs. Cancer Classic.

"Our game is right at the end of football season and getting basketball exposure that time of year is tough," Donovan said. "Certainly people are vying for conference championships or positioning for national championships in football, so any basketball recognition is great for everyone involved."

Hamilton, now in his fourth season in a resurrection effort at FSU, conjectures that interest will surface in a Florida-Florida State basketball meeting no matter what time of year it is.

"I don't feel the pressure that maybe they do to have the game connected with the football game," said Hamilton, whose team will daytrip to from Tallahassee because no hotel rooms were available in Gainesville.

"I would like very much for basketball for stand on its own."

A late schedule change last season backfired somewhat on FSU. The game was held on Jan. 4 – just days before students were to return from Christmas Break – and just under 8,000 spectators filled the 12,100-seat Leon County Civic Center to witness an 81-69 FSU upset.

Donovan says he'll continue to schedule the game to correspond with the football game.

Hamilton, on the other hand, has plans to move it again next season but isn't getting much help on the homefront. FSU women's basketball coach Sue Semrau scheduled two games against UF this season in order to get her annual home-and-home back on track with the football game.(The Lady ‘Noles topped UF 82-76 in Tallahassee on Wednesday and the teams will meet on Gainesville Jan. 2)

"We wanted to get on a schedule where we were playing home basketball games the same year our football team was playing at home," said Semrau, who hasn't approached the topic with Hamilton.

Florida State forward Al Thornton sees another advantage, rivalry aside.

"I'm glad that we play a team like Florida early on that'll give a real test of what kind of team we can be. We have the opportunity to let people know that we are for real this year if we can get past them.

"Bottom line is that both are amazing football schools and people are always going to get more excited over football. I think we'll put our name out there as a basketball program one way or the other."

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