Billy Donovan's Florida basketball team won't be dining on the typical buffet of cupcakes in the 2011-12 non-conference schedule. Instead, these Gators will follow up their Elite Eight run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament by playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in college basketball this coming season.
The marquee game on the slate is Florida's trip to Ohio State on November 15. It's the return game of a two-game series that began with the Buckeyes' second half rally to down Florida at the O'Connell Center in November 2010, and it'll match up a Florida team that may have the deepest backcourt in America against Jared Sullinger, Ohio State's monster down low.
But the Gators also play Arizona (December 7, home), which made the Elite Eight in March; Syracuse (December 2, away), a No. 3 seed that bowed out before the Sweet 16; Florida State (December 22, home), another Sweet 16 team; an underrated Texas A&M squad (December 17, Sunrise, Fl.) and a Yale team that might just make some noise in the Ivy League this season.
This isn't a weak non-conference schedule larded with a bunch of Florida-based/Southern schools playing guarantee games for wins, or even one with one big name and a constellation of little ones: This is the most rigorous non-conference schedule I can remember Florida playing since at least the 2006-07 season, when all the Gators were doing was trying to repeat as national champions with most of a fantastic team returning.
Those Gators were battle-tested, proven champions; these Gators are highly touted, in need of some seasoning to go with their talent and some pelts to go on their walls. This schedule is likely to provide those opportunities: Patric Young will have to be fierce to keep the Gators in a game in Columbus against Sullinger's Buckeyes, and the guards (Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker) will have to solve Syracuse's 2-3 zone to stay with the Orange at the Carrier Dome. And Arizona's athleticism will be a nightmare for a smallish lineup that will have to learn how to deal with giving up size all year.
I'm excited for this non-conference schedule because it gives Florida must-see games before SEC play, and I can all but promise I'll be in the O'Connell Center for both the Arizona and Florida State games at the very least. (I'm also really intrigued by Yale: Bulldogs big man Greg Mangano could give Young and Erik Murphy fits.) But I'm also excited by the prospect of Billy Donovan realizing his team could do phenomenal things and giving them the proper challenges along that path.
2011 Florida Men's Basketball Non-Conference Schedule
- November 3: Catholic University (exhibition), home
- November 11: Jackson State, home
- November 15: Ohio State, Columbus, Oh.
- November 17: North Florida, home
- November 21: Wright State, Tampa
- November 25: Jacksonville, home
- November 28: Stetson, Orlando
- December 2: Syracuse, Syracuse, N.Y.
- December 7: Arizona, home
- December 9: Rider, Jacksonville
- December 17: Texas A&M, Sunrise, Fl.
- December 19: Mississippi Valley State, home
- December 22: Florida State, home
- December 29: Rutgers, Piscataway, N.J.
- December 31: Yale, home
- January 3: UAB, home