GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When the Florida basketball team opened practice Friday they did so with eight players back from last year’s regional finalist squad, plus two transfers, one from the Southeastern Conference and the other from Atlantic Coast Conference.
This is a veteran squad that knows how to prepare -- and will need to.
We’ve been telling you for months that UF’s non-conference schedule in 2012-13 would be among the toughest in the nation. This week, ESPN backed that claim with its rankings of the toughest out-of-league schedules.
The Gators checked in at No. 5, behind only Texas, Duke, UCLA and Memphis.
On a toughness scale of 1-10, UF’s slate was rated a 10 -- placed in SEC context, Kentucky got a 9, Tennessee an 8 and Georgia, Missouri and Vanderbilt got 7s -- thanks to neutral-site games against Georgetown, Middle Tennessee State and Kansas State, home dates with Wisconsin, Marquette and UCF, and road dates at Arizona, Florida State and Yale.
Of those nine, Wisconsin, Arizona and K-State were pegged as the “toughest,” with Georgetown, UCF and Marquette termed “next-toughest.”
Wrote ESPN blogger Myron Medcalf:
"When your "next-toughest" category lists Marquette and Georgetown, your schedule is downright brutal. The Gators host Wisconsin and Marquette, play the Hoyas on an aircraft carrier in Jacksonville and travel to FSU, Arizona and Kansas State (in Kansas City). There may not be a top-five team in that mix (though let's keep an eye on Arizona), but there are a lot of Top 25 teams to deal with. Oh, and let's not forget Middle Tennessee, which returns much of a team that finished 27-7 overall and ranked No. 60 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency in 2011-12."
So Coach Billy Donovan will learn a lot about his team right out of the box. That Georgetown game is the Nov. 9 season opener (on the U.S.S Bataan at Naval Station Mayport outside Jacksonville) and five days later Wisconsin rolls into the O’Connell Center on Nov. 14.
“I think because we open up with Georgetown, the third game of the year we’re playing Wisconsin, it comes at us pretty quickly in November to really, really find out where we’re at as a basketball team,” Donovan said Wednesday. “Like anything else, there are rewards at the end of the year that you want to experience, but you don’t experience those rewards at the end of the year until you take care of what’s in front of you today.”