Florida, Ohio State headline 2021 Fort Myers Tip-Off college basketball field


No. 15 seed Oral Roberts University heads to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament after beating No. 7 Florida 81-78 on Sunday.


College hoops fans can expect elite NCAA talent with a side of turkey during Thanksgiving week this year.

The fourth edition of the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off announced a 2021 field featuring Florida, Ohio State, Cal and Seton Hall on Wednesday.

The event, which saw Gonzaga kick off its historic season last year, will be held at Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the Florida SouthWestern State College campus.

The tournament nailed down these teams for the 2021 tournament about 18 months ago, according to tournament director Mark Starsiak.

“There’s different things to be excited about for every school,” Starsiak said, noting the brand names of Ohio State and an in-state school like Florida.

Don’t forget, Gonzaga started its undefeated national championship run in Fort Myers

Takeaways: FL’s stunning loss to Roberts in the NCAA Tournament’s 2nd round

The totality of the field is what makes it special, he added.

The four selected programs for 2021 boast 84 NCAA Tournament berths, including Ohio State and Florida’s appearances in this year’s tournament as respective 2 and 7 seeds. Both teams fell victim to 15th-seeded Oral Roberts’ Cindarella run to the Sweet 16.

Fans can expect to see decorated players including the Gators’ Colin Castleton (Second Team All-SEC performer) and Ohio State’s E.J Liddell and Duane Washington (All-Big Ten performers, first and third team, respectively).

Last year, the field was hastily reassembled after Butler, Colorado, South Florida, and Wisconsin dropped out because of COVID-19. Tournament officials scrambled to gather an upgraded field comprised of Gonzaga, Kansas, Auburn and St. Joe’s to compete last November.

Gonzaga won the non-bracketed tournament, which included head coach Mark Few’s 600th win and the debut of NCAA tournament star and NBA prospect Jalen Suggs. The undefeated Zags have cruised to the Final Four behind dominant victories and will face 11th-seeded UCLA on Saturday.

More: No. 2 Gonzaga relies on second half surge en route to 102-90 win over No. 5 Kansas in Fort Myers Tip-Off

A look back: Gonzaga, Kansas, Auburn, Saint Joseph’s set to play in revamped Fort Myers Tip-Off field

Tournament officials take pride in the revamped 2020 field, which they had about three to four weeks to put together, Starsiak said.

Gonzaga’s trip was not without adversity as the team held out two players from a 90-67 win against Auburn because of COVID-19 protocols.

It’s hard to predict what the state of the pandemic will look like in November, but Starsiak is hopeful it will be less of a factor in this year’s tournament.

“We’ll continue to kind of read the landscape of the world,” he said, adding that, like last year, they will follow the advice of local health leaders. “Whatever the appropriate and safe things are to do, we’ll be ready for that again”

Along with Gonzaga, teams featured the tip-off event including Loyola, Kansas, Florida and Ohio State all earned berths in the 2021 NCAA tournament. Boston College and Pitt won the first two editions of the tournament.

“The trajectory that we’ve gone on for our first four years is tremendous,” Starsiak said.

He credited the Florida SouthWestern venue and local support for aiding that success.

Come November, Starsiak said people will be itching to travel to tropical locations, and “that mix of sunshine and basketball” makes the Fort Myers Tip-Off particularly appealing.

And for fans at home? Well, they might get a little jealous.

“They’ll be seeing some of the great college basketball in the early season, and, frankly, they’ll be seeing a destination they wish they’ll be at,” Starsiak said.

Game dates, matchups and television designations will be announced at a later date, according to the news release.

Follow News-Press Sports Reporter Dustin Levy on Twitter: @DustinBLevy. For additional coverage of sports across Southwest Florida, follow @newspresssports and @ndnprepzone on Instagram.

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