Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Yeah, yeah, I know the 2013 Florida football season hasn’t even started yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start priming for the Gators and the 2013-14 basketball season.
With Tuesday’s release of the Southeastern Conference slate of games, UF’s schedule is now complete and for the second straight year the Gators have one of the most challenging schedules in their history.
Aside from the annual home-and-home series with powerhouse Kentucky, Florida has a four-game stretch starting Thanksgiving weekend against Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis.
And while the SEC only placed three teams in the NCAA Tournament last season, the league figures to be better in ’13-14, with Kentucky expected to start the season at the top of the polls, Florida somewhere in the top 15 and Tennessee in top 25.
The Gators return five players from their primary rotation of eight last season -- including seniors Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather, along with sophomore Michael Frazier -- and will fold in a pair of impact transfers in sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (by way of Virginia Tech) and junior center Damontre Harris (South Carolina), plus McDonald’s All-America freshman point guard Kasey Hill.
This version of Coach Billy Donovan’s team, much deeper in the frontcourt, figures to offer an altogether different look than some of the recent guard-driven ones that relied so much on outside shooting.
Anyway, you can see for yourself in 73 days (or the day after Halloween, if that feels sooner) when the team rolls out for its exhibition debut.
Here’s a long-range game-by-game breakdown.
Nov. 1: Florida Southern (exhibition)
The buzz: The Division II Moccasins, out of the Sunshine State Conference, have long been a formidable program in their classification. Last year, FSC finished 27-6 and made it -- wait for it -- to the D-II Elite Eight before falling to Western Washington.
Nov. 8: North Florida
The buzz: The Gators officially open their 93rd season riding a 16 1/2-game winning streak in season openers. “Huh?” you ask. Remember, last year’s opener -- UF vs Georgetown on the deck of the U.S.S Bataan at Naval Station Mayport -- was cancelled at halftime due to condensation on the floor. The Gators were winning that own 27-23 at halftime. This game will be indoors at the O’Connell Center.
Nov. 12: at Wisconsin, 9 p.m.
The buzz: Return game of a home-and-home series, but also part of ESPN’s two-day hoops marathon. The Gators defeated the Badgers 74-56 at Gainesville last season (on a night forward Erik Murphy went 10-for-10 from the floor for a career-high 24 points). The Badgers, with 15 straight NCAA appearances, are famously tough at Kohl Center under Coach Bo Ryan.
Nov. 8: Arkansas-Little Rock
The buzz: The Trojans went 17-15 last year, with 11 of those wins in the Sun Belt Conference. They did not fare well in three so-called “BCS” games, losing to Ole Miss, South Carolina and Cincinnati by an average of 29 points.
Nov. 18: Middle Tennessee State
The buzz: Always tough, always dangerous. The Blue Raiders won 28 games last season and captured the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title en route to an NCAA Tournament berth (and first-round exit in the play-in Dayton Region). One of their six defeats was a 66-45 loss to the Gators at Tampa. MTSU jumps to Conference USA this season.
Nov. 8: at Jacksonville
The buzz: So you ask, “Why play Jacksonville in a true road game?” Well in exchange for Florida playing at the Veterans Memorial Arena this year, JU will come to Gainesville each of the next two years. The game will mark a homecoming for Young, who starred at Providence Christian, though UF has played in the Jacksonville area each of the last two seasons.
Nov. 29: Florida State
The buzz: Right where this game should be played every year: the night before the Gators and Seminoles butt heads on the football field. That’s where Donovan likes it, while FSU official prefer the game be separate from football. The O’Dome will be rocking on the eve of what figures to be another mega-showdown in the annual UF-FSU rivalry.
Dec. 2: at Connecticut
The buzz: The front end of an attractive home-and-home series between the Gators and Huskies at Gampel Pavilion. UConn is coming off a 20-10 season in its first season under former Huskies star Kevin Ollie while serving a one-year NCAA probation for academic progress. This will mark the first meeting between UF and UConn since the 1994 Sweet 16 (See Marshall, Donyell).
Dec. 10: Kansas (SEC/Big 12 Challenge), 7 p.m., on ESPN
The buzz: The Jayhawks, that other team taken down by Michigan in the South Region at Dallas, figure to be a preseason top-five pick and will trot out the No. 1-ranked freshman in the nation in forward Andrew Wiggins, already projected as a candidate for the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft next June. What an atmosphere it should be.
Dec. 17: vs. Memphis in Jimmy V Classic (Madison Square Garden, New York)
The buzz: You’ve no doubt heard that Kentucky’s incoming freshman class is arguably the greatest in college basketball history. Well, the class put together by Memphis coach Josh Pastner was ranked No. 2, thanks to the landing of six Top 100 players in Austin Nichols, Nick King, Dominic Woodson, Pookie Powell, Markel Crawford and Kuran Iverson (cousin of a certain former NBA point guard). The Tigers also return 6-9 All-America candidate and power forward Shaq Goodwin and added transfer Mike Dixon (Missouri). Big game in the Big Apple.
Dec. 21: vs. Fresno State (Orange Bowl Classic, Sunrise, Fla.)
The buzz: The Bulldogs were a meager 11-19 in the Western Athletic Conference, but the Gators better not sleep on these guys. Not only does the roster return mostly intact, but Fresno plays that methodical, toothache kind of offense that can drive a team (and coach) nuts; especially the day before his players break for Christmas (not to mention coming off that four-game gauntlet of FSU, UConn, KU and Memphis).
Dec. 29: Savannah State
The buzz: The Tigers scored only 40 points against the Gators last November, but actually held UF to just 58 during that early season stretch when Florida was playing some of the best basketball in the country. Savannah, from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, got a bid to the CIT (CollegeInsider.com Tournament) last year after going 19-15.
Jan 4: Richmond
The buzz: Just call them the “always dangerous Spiders.” Richmond, out of the Atlantic-10, upset Florida in the Orange Bowl Classic in 2009 and actually is 1-2 all-time against the Gators (raise your hand if you remember that 27-25 gut punch in 1923).
Jan. 8: South Carolina
The buzz: The SEC opener for both teams. The Gators pounded the Gamecocks 75-36 in their lone meeting last season, with USC finishing 4-14 in league play in Coach Frank Martin’s first year there after coming over from Kansas State. The Gamecocks will be better this season.
Jan. 11: at Arkansas
The buzz: SEC expansion (and going from a 16- to 18-game league slate) threw some quirks into hoops scheduling. This is one of them. Make it three straight years the Gators have had to travel to Fayetteville, Ark. That’s a first. Two years ago, Florida destroyed the Razorbacks, handing them the worst loss ever at Bud Walton Arena. Last year, the Hogs basically returned the favor, handing UF its first SEC loss of the season.
Jan. 14: Georgia
The buzz: The Gators swept the Bulldogs last season, though were tested in their date at Athens with a halftime deficit. Georgia lost its best player in NBA lottery-pick forward Kentavious Caldwell-Pope going eighth overall to the Detroit Pistons. The Bulldogs are coming off a losing record (15-17), but still broke even at 9-9 in SEC play.
Jan. 18: at Auburn
The buzz: The Tigers really, really struggled last season, going 9-23, winning just three conference games and dropping their last 11. The Gators won at Auburn by 31 and the Tigers spiraled on for a last-place finish in the SEC.
Jan. 23: at Alabama
The buzz: Under former Billy Donovan assistant coach Anthony Grant, the Crimson Tide remains winless against the Gators in six tries. Still, ‘Bama seems always to play the Gators tough and last year held second-half leads in both their meetings before Florida stormed back for emotionally charged wins.
Jan. 25: Tennessee
The buzz: Since the arrival of Coach Cuonzo Martin, the Volunteers have won all three meetings against the Gators with a smothering combination of physicality and confidence. In fact, UT is 13-6 vs. UF since 2006. The Vols not only return high-flying forward Jordan McRae and beastly post guy Jarnell Stokes, but also get back forward Jeronne Maymon after a medical redshirt year. Mark it down: the Vols will be a seriously challenger for the SEC title.
Jan. 30: at Mississippi State
The buzz: Back to Starkville for a second year in a row. The Gators won there by 35 last season, but like aforementioned South Carolina, the Bulldogs were in transition with a new staff. Not sure what Year 2 of the Coach Rick Ray era will bring, but expect MSU to be better than last year’s 4-14 finish that tied for next-to-last in the league.
Feb. 1: Texas A&M
The buzz: Two straight weekends of the dreaded Thursday-Saturday turnaround (this one from Starkville, no less). Not to worry, though. Donovan has an excellent handle on the two-games-in-three-days scenario, having gone 15-1 in such games since the SEC partnered with ESPN for the current Thursday-Saturday TV package. The visit from the Aggies (18-15, 7-11 last season) will mark the beginning of a three-game home stand at the O’Dome.
Feb. 4: Missouri
The buzz: The Tigers were one of just three SEC teams to reach the NCAA Tournament, but were ousted the first weekend by Colorado State. Point guard Phil Pressey is gone (Boston Celtics). So is guard Keion Bell and forwards Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi. UF-UM won’t have the sex appeal of last year’s meetings, but on the eve of football’s National Signing Day this could keep the recruitniks preoccupied for a couple hours.
Feb. 8: Alabama
The buzz: This will mark the third straight home game for the Gators. UF has defeated the Crimson Tide seven straight, dating to 2009, and have not lost at home in the series since 1995.
Feb. 11: at Tennessee
The buzz: Thompson-Boling is a house of horrors for the Gators, having dropped seven of eight in Knoxville, dating to 2006.
Feb. 15: at Kentucky
The buzz: Hardcores know of the Harrison twins, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson are, but those UK freshmen are certain to be household college hoops names by the time the Gators and Wildcats meet in Lexington. UK has won 10 of the previous 13 meetings, including six straight at Rupp Arena. Addtionally, ESPN College Game Day will originate from Rupp Arena prior to the game.
Feb. 19: Auburn
The buzz: Gators are 14-1 against the Tigers since the 2001 season, with five straight wins and this figures to be another rebuilding season for Coach Tony Barbee, who is 12-38 in SEC play in three years.
Feb. 22: at Ole Miss
The buzz: Well, well, well. The hype of this rematch of the 2013 SEC Tournament championship game will depend on the status of mercurial Rebels shooting guard Marshall Henderson, who is currently suspended indefinitely. When last seen, Henderson was having quite the time doing the Gator chomp in Nashville after scoring 18 second-half points to erase a 12-point deficit in the upset win.
Feb. 25: at Vanderbilt
The buzz: The Commodores, who were just 16-17 last season, ousted UK in the SEC Tournament’s opening round, a defeat that cost the Cats an NCAA berth. An encouraging sign for a young team. Vandy, though, got some unexpected bad news this summer in losing starting guards Kedren Johnson (suspended) and Kevin Bright (left program).
March 1: Louisiana State
The buzz: The Tigers are coming off a 19-12 season (with a pair of losses to UF) that included a break-even mark in the SEC. But with only three league teams making the NCAA Tournament, that pushed LSU’s eighth-place finish further down the postseason pecking order. Ultimately, the Tigers missed out on an NIT berth. They should be better, with a nice chunk of the roster back, plus freshman forward Jerell Martin, a McDonald’s All-American.
March 4: at South Carolina
The buzz: UF closes out its SEC road slate at Columbia.
March 8: Kentucky (Senior Day)
The buzz: Last year, the Gators said goodbye to their seniors (Murphy, Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario) with a comfortable win over Vanderbilt that locked up the SEC regular-season title all to themselves. This one has big-time emotional potential also, what with the four-man senior class playing their final game against Kentucky.
March 12-16: SEC Tournament (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)
The buzz: Back to the ATL after stops in New Orleans (’12) and Nashville (’13).
March 18-19: NCAA Tournament (First Round, Dayton, Ohio)
The buzz: The Gators have never experienced the Dayton Region ... and would prefer not to. That’s not reflection on the good folks of Dayton, mind you, just the ramifications of seeding.
March 20-22: NCAA Tournament (Second and Third rounds)
The buzz: The Thursday-Saturday sites are Buffalo, N.Y;, Milwaukee, Wis.; Orlando, Fla.; Spokane, Wash.
March 21-23: NCAA Tournament (Second and Third rounds)
The buzz: The Friday-Sunday sites are Raleigh, N.C.; San Antonio, Texas; San Diego, Calif.; St. Louis, Mo.
March 27-29: NCAA Regionals
The buzz: Thursday-Saturday Sweet 16s and Elite Eights are set for Anaheim, Calif., and Memphis, Tenn.
March 28-30: NCAA Regionals
The buzz: Friday and Sunday Sweet 16s and Elite Eights are set for Indianapolis and New York (more specifically, Madison Square Garden).
APRIL 5-7: Final Four
The buzz: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, formerly known as Cowboys Stadium (or “Jerry World”) will play host to the national semifinals and championship game.