Florida's non-conference schedule for the 2016-17 season is set to be a unique pilgrimage from city to city for a diasporic band of Gators who won't be able to play in the O'Dome until the completion of its transformation into Exactech Arena at the O'Connell Center is complete in late December. And it's filling out.
The Gainesville Sun's Kevin Brockway noted last week that Florida would meet St. Bonaventure in Lakeland, according to a report from the Olean Times Herald (that game is set to happen just before Thanksgiving, Blogging the Bracket's invaluable Chris Dobbertean notes), and reported in early June that the Gators would see Charlotte in this year's Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise. Meanwhile, the Associated Press' Mark Long reported that Florida's first game in its renovated arena would come against Arkansas-Little Rock just after Christmas.
In addition, Florida announced last week that the Gators would open the 2016-17 season in Jacksonville, with games against Belmont and Mercer in mid-November, marking the second straight year under Mike White that the Gators have opened the season away from Gainesville.
Furthermore, North Florida has been advertising a season ticket package including a home game against Florida since May.
Those games join a schedule that already included a matchup against Oklahoma in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, a game against Duke in the Jimmy V Classic, and a long-announced slot in the 2016 AdvoCare Invitational tournament over Thanksgiving in Orlando.
That schedule looks like this now.
Florida Gators Men's Basketball 2016-17 Non-Conference Schedule
|November 11, 2016
|Bruins have seven NCAA Tournament trips under longtime coach Rick Byrd
|November 13, 2016
|Bears memorably upset Duke in 2014 NCAA Tournament, own 7-5 all-time record vs. Gators
|November 24, 2016
|Orlando, FL (AdvoCare Invitational)
|Field includes Gonzaga, Indiana State, Iowa State, Miami, Quinnipiac, Seton Hall and Stanford
|November 25, 2016
|Orlando, FL (AdvoCare Invitational)
|Gators haven't played regular season game in Orlando since 2010 (57-54 loss to UCF at Amway Arena)
|November 27, 2016
|Orlando, FL (AdvoCare Invitational)
|Gonzaga is event's only two-time champion
|December 6, 2016
|New York City (Jimmy V Classic)
|Gators are 4-12 all-time against Duke
|December 17, 2016
|Sunrise, FL (Orange Bowl Classic)
|Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze led 49ers in minutes, threes (106), 3PT% (42.7 percent) in 2015-16
|December 21, 2016
|Trojans upset Purdue in 2016 NCAA Tournament, lost coach Chris Beard to Texas Tech
|January 28, 2017
|Gators' second meeting with former coach Lon Kruger
|Gators routed Ospreys, 97-68, in NIT opener
|Game likely to be played at 8,000-seat Lakeland Civic Center
|Gators, Seminoles have played annually since 1978; Florida hosted in 2015
|Tampa / St. Petersburg, FL
|As hinted at by Mark Long
After the publication of this post, a Florida spokesman reached out to confirm that a 13-game slate would be the maximum size of Florida's entire non-conference slate; since the SEC's move to an 18-game regular season schedule in 2012-13, the league's teams have been capped at 13 non-conference games, with a 30-game regular season as the soft maximum and tournament participation allowing schools to get to 31 regular-season games.
The Gators played 13 non-conference games in each of the last three seasons, thanks to both tournaments (the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis and 2015 Hall of Fame Tip-Off) and a round-robin event, but had more robust schedules prior to that, having played 15 non-conference games in four of the last 10 seasons. 13 would seem to be the magic number for the Gators again this year, given their participation in the AdvoCare Invitational.
Obviously, any 2016-17 non-conference game taking place in November or December is a road trip of one sort or another for Florida, and the added costs of such contests would have seemed enough to shift some of those games to the holiday season or early January, when Florida could host them. The above reasoning implies that Florida has 13 games already set up, though, and just one home game in the bunch.
If I had to slot the four games without scheduled dates into Florida's schedule, I'd put one between the Mercer game and the AdvoCare Invitational, one between the Invitational and the trip to New York to see Duke, one just before the Orange Bowl Classic, and one after the Little Rock game.
The most glaring hole in the schedule as of now is that late December period, and it's very likely that Florida will schedule at least one game after Christmas and before the beginning of the SEC schedule. A game on December 21 followed by nothing before New Year's would make for an extensive layoff, as Florida has only had two layoffs of as many as 10 days in the second half of December since 1980.
I'll have a fuller analysis of Florida's non-conference schedule when it's complete and announced, but I don't expect any other big names to be added to it.
Florida will celebrate 10-year anniversary of first title
2016 marks 10 years since Florida's first national title in basketball, but the Gators didn't celebrate that anniversary during the season, with nearly every person of importance from that time both gone from Gainesville and busy in the NBA during the 2015-16 regular season. Instead, Florida will stage a 10-year reunion of sorts this September — during a football game.
Florida will honor the legendary Oh-Fours — Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green, as well as Oh-Three Lee Humphrey — and former coach Billy Donovan, bringing all of the above back to Gainesville, during a celebratory weekend around its September 10 football game against Kentucky, the school announced Thursday.
"It's going to be great," said Donovan, who left UF in 2015 to become coach of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder. "After that second [national] championship, once the school year ended, those guys had to travel all over the place, get ready for the draft, go to summer league, so there wasn't much time after that to be around one another. It'll be nice for all of us to catch up."
While showcasing the Gators who won a pair of national titles this century — still one more than Kentucky's — during a game against the Wildcats is obviously a rich bit of gamesmanship, Florida insists it's got less to do with rivalry and more to do with logistics.
"The bottom line, because of (the players') schedules, it had to happen the first two weeks of the season, regardless of the opponent," UF executive associate athletics director Mike Hill said. "But, yes, there is some irony that it will be the weekend the conference's standard-bearer for basketball will be here."
I guess that such a reunion happening it against UMass, one of the schools that had to vacate a Final Four appearance earned by a John Calipari-led team, would probably have been a bit too subtle for some.
Three players departing Florida's roster
Florida announced jersey numbers for the 2016-17 season on Wednesday, with a flashy graphic showing that freshman Eric Hester will wear No. 2, Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson will hold the No. 3 uniform while redshirting, freshman Gorjok Gak will don No. 12, freshman Deontay Bassett will wear No. 21, and College of Charleston transfer Canyon Barry will be in No. 24.
New faces. New numbers. New Team. We're excited for our guys who got on campus yesterday. pic.twitter.com/IEBOBnK2eQ— Gator M-Basketball (@GatorsMBK) June 22, 2016
It also lacked three names that were part of the 2015-16 roster: Fifth-year senior Alex Murphy and walk-ons Zach Hodskins and Jhonny Victor.
Adam Silverstein reported and Brockway confirmed the departure of Hodskins, said to be seeking more playing time at another school, and Brockway reported the departure of Murphy, who is still awaiting an NCAA decision on whether he will be granted a sixth year of eligibility. Victor, who joined the team last fall, will remain at Florida, and focus on high jumping full-time for Florida's track team, per Silverstein.
I wouldn't consider any of those departures a major loss, given that Murphy's injuries and chronic pain were so bad in 2015-16 that he couldn't even fully participate in practice and that Hodskins and Victor were lightly-used walk-ons. Fans will assuredly miss Hodskins, whose one-handed feats drew national attention, but he's definitely got a better shot to play meaningful minutes at a program somewhere below Florida's level.