The schedule for the 2014 SEC/Big 12 Challenge was released Wednesday by the SEC, and, just as in 2013, Florida's doozy of a game is the showcase of the entire enterprise: The Gators will travel to Kansas on December 5 for a non-conference showdown with the Jayhawks.
Last year, Florida welcomed Kansas to Gainesville for the highlight game of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge's inaugural year, and topped the Jayhawks, 67-61, in a game between the teams that would eventually be the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the 2014 NCAA Tournament's South Regional.
Florida forced Kansas into 24 turnovers with its press and 1-3-1 zone, led 36-21 at halftime, and only won by its relatively small margin of six points because Andrew Wiggins, who had 26 points and 11 rebounds for Kansas in the game, scored 11 points in the game's final three minutes, nine of them on increasingly ridiculous threes.
Kansas won't have Wiggins, likely to be one of the first players selected in the 2014 NBA Draft, this fall. Nor will it have fellow departing big man Joel Embiid. But Florida will be without the four seniors who combined for 43 points on that night, though it does return Dorian Finney-Smith (15 points, four threes) and Kasey Hill (six points, three assists), along with a host of younger, talented players. And while the O'Connell Center was plenty hostile for that game, and has become one of the great home venues in college basketball in terms of crowd volume, it still pales in comparison to Phog Allen Fieldhouse, the cathedral of basketball where the Gators will play in December.
As always, Florida scheduling blue-bloods like Kansas is a great sign for the program, which has perennially produced elite teams under Billy Donovan. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't more excited to potentially go see the Phog than I have been for any other Florida non-conference game in recent memory.