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.
Read the rest of this entry »