2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Florida Gators

Posted by rtmsf on August 31st, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

Two NIT berths and one questionable NCAA bid following the first back-to-back title run since the Laettner and Hurley-led Dukies of the early 1990’s, Billy Donovan can finally approach a season without the sour taste of an early NBA/overseas defection, instead focusing on the welcomed expectation of an SEC title. Just as we did with conference rival Kentucky last week, here’s a breakdown of the Florida Gators schedule in their quest to return to the pinnacle of college basketball.

Team Outlook: The moment 6’8 junior forward Alex Tyus opted to complete his four years in Gainesville rather than enter the NBA Draft early, Billy Donovan knew he had a team that could compete for an SEC crown on his hands. Blindsided by the sudden departures of Marreese Speights and Nick Calathes in recent years, Donovan’s only loss would be that of role player Dan Werner. Adding a talented recruiting class led by rugged forward Patric Young and versatile wing Casey Prather to a core returning all five starters meant Donovan finally had some continuity with his program. The group returning isn’t exactly that of Duke, Purdue or Michigan State, though. After all, the Gators finished a mediocre 9-7 in SEC play and lost four of five down the stretch, putting their eventual NCAA Tournament bid in serious jeopardy. Donovan hopes that another year of development for blue chip recruit Kenny Boynton will pay dividends, Tyus and Vernon Macklin can hold down the middle, Erving Walker continues to dish out assists at a high rate and Chandler Parsons pulls some more late-game heroics out of his hat. A successful season followed by Mike Rosario and Bradley Beal entering the fray in 2011 could vault the Gators back to the hoops elite after a three year hiatus.

Donovan Returns All Five Starters From an NCAA Team

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 8. Coach Donovan struck an appropriate balance of challenging non-conference games and SEC warm-ups for his Gators. Florida will participate in the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon with a primetime battle at home against Ohio State. They might be drawing the Buckeyes at the right time with their point guard situation in flux and the Buckeyes looking to form an identity post-Evan Turner. The Florida-Florida State series continues in late November with the Gators traveling to Tallahassee to take on a talented Seminoles team with, once again, NCAA Tournament expectations. Chris Singleton should be a difficult matchup for the Florida frontline. Similar to their December contest with Syracuse in Tampa last year, Donovan scheduled a top-five preseason team in Kansas State in what should be one of the most anticipated non-conference games around the country. A New Year’s Eve trip to the Queen City to face a Xavier team that returns three starters from a Sweet 16 qualifier should prove another stiff test.

Cupcake City: The Gators did apply some frosting to their schedule, but they didn’t go overboard. A few of the games should be relative cakewalks — UNC-Wilmington, North Carolina A&T, Florida Atlantic, Jacksonville and Radford have the makings of easy Gator victories (don’t tell Donovan that after Florida’s stunning home loss to South Alabama last season). There are some sneaky challenges thrown in, too. Morehead State and double-double machine Kenneth Faried will be Murray State’s biggest challenger in the OVC again; they visit Gainesville on November 21. Kent State recoups three of their top four scorers from a team that won the MAC regular season title. With Siena losing talented seniors and their coach, it is Fairfield expected to take the crown in the MAAC. Rhode Island returns enough of a core to contend in the competitive Atlantic 10. The Gators also have tricky road trips to nearby Orlando to take on UCF and Washington, D.C., to face American.

Toughest Early Season Test: The neutral site meeting with Kansas State on December 18 has all the makings to be Florida’s toughest non-conference test and a meeting of two top-ten teams. The Wildcats enter the season with some questions, notably how Jacob Pullen will handle pulling double duty with Denis Clemente no longer around to run the offense and how much the loss of Dominique Sutton to transfer will affect their interior presence and physicality. Even so, most prognosticators would peg K-State to take the Big 12 title with Pullen returning and a breakout expected from forward Curtis Kelly. Frank Martin also trots out a deep frontline that will test Parsons, Tyus, Macklin and the freshman Young inside early in his college career. How Erving Walker defends Pullen on the perimeter could also determine the outcome in front of what should be a primarily pro-Gator crowd.

Hardest SEC Stretch: From January 25 to February 5, the Gators will play four difficult games that should really prove their worth as a bona fide SEC title contender. They open the stretch with a trip to Athens to try to contain first team all-SEC candidate Trey Thompkins and his high-flying sidekick Travis Leslie. Coming off a season in which we saw the Bulldogs slay more than one powerhouse, expectations are high Mark Fox could vault Georgia into top-25 territory this season. Follow that with a CBS Saturday afternoon clash with Mississippi State in the raucous atmosphere that Starkville always provides. State hopes to have big man Renardo Sidney finally on the court and in shape by SEC play. The Gators then return home for two tough duels against Vanderbilt, a team that’s perennially well-coached and features the wing play of Jeff Taylor and John Jenkins. The grand finale is a visit from College Gameday and the Kentucky Wildcats. Escaping this four game stretch at 2-2 should be considered a victory.  

Easiest SEC Stretch: In all honesty, there’s no excuse for Florida not to be 4-1 in SEC play by the time they start that brutal stretch in Athens. Other than a stiff road test in Knoxville against Tennessee (a game they certainly can win, but probably won’t be favored), Florida will face Mississippi, South Carolina and Arkansas at home with a road trip to Auburn sprinkled in to begin conference competition. None of those four teams are expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth this season unless Chris Warren turns into a Naismith candidate or Arkansas comes together incredibly quickly. This will be a golden opportunity for the Gators to establish some confidence and chemistry heading into the teeth of SEC play. It would be foolish to overlook any competitor in one of the BCS conferences (even you Nebraska, Iowa and DePaul), but the talent differential should be enough to avoid an embarrassing slipup.

The Diminutive But Talented Walker Will Have His Hands Full With Brandon Knight

Best Individual Matchup: Any time one of the hyped freshmen playing for a storied program plays in an important rivalry game in primetime, go ahead and sign me up. That will be the case when Kentucky’s next star-in-the-making point guard Brandon Knight and Kentucky travels to Gainesville for what should be a huge showdown on February 5 with a return date in Lexington on February 26. By the time that month rolls around, Knight should have an understanding of what John Calipari expects from him and his game will only improve with continued experience. I’m looking forward to seeing how the 6’3 Knight matches up with the 5’8 Walker. Knight has the height advantage and a deft scoring touch, but Walker features his own advanced array of scoring moves and can match him bucket-for-bucket if he gets hot. A shaking O’Connell Center coupled with Walker’s intense defensive pressure makes for a fascinating matchup.

Most Challenging Road Test: With Tennessee losing key contributors Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze, Vanderbilt absorbing the loss of A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal and Georgia not quite established yet as a true threat, the obvious choice here is Kentucky. Expect to see a split decision when November rolls around and the predictions begin as far as the SEC champion is concerned. Half will fall in love with Kentucky’s young talent — Knight, Enes Kanter and Terrence Jones to name a few — and Calipari’s coaching ability. Half will see Florida returns five starters from an NCAA team and peg them as the preseason favorite. It should make for a fascinating race.

Most Anticipated Home Date: The pom-pom waving faithful in Gainesville will be looking for some serious revenge when Kentucky rolls into town, but at the risk of repeating myself, let’s go with Vanderbilt as a meeting that Florida fans are anticipating. Other than UK, the Commodores were the only other SEC opponent they lost to at home last season, a Vandy win that clinched the season series against Florida for the folks from Nashville for the first time since 1997. Two of Florida’s returning guards and expected contributors, Walker and Boynton, combined to go 3-24 from the field and 1-9 from deep and the Gators as a unit missed their final 11 shots in that devastating loss. With their core returning and Vanderbilt crushed by the stunning departure of A.J. Ogilvy, I’d expect a different result this time around, especially when Walker and Boynton look at last season’s game tape.

Upset Watch: The aforementioned January 29 game at Mississippi State has all the makings of a tricky game. Florida will have just concluded what should be a demanding 40 minutes against Georgia and face another thorny road test in Starkville. Renardo Sidney’s ability to bang inside or step out and hit the mid-range jumper could prove a matchup problem for the Florida forwards while Ravern Johnson is always a threat to catch fire from deep. With a huge week ahead at home against Vanderbilt and Kentucky ahead, Donovan needs to make sure this isn’t a trap game for his Gators.

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