The Florida Gators — the men’s basketball version, anyway — aren’t going to let a pandemic that prematurely ended their 2019-20 season and has significantly reshuffled their 2020-21 dance card prevent them from having a daunting non-conference schedule.
Florida’s slate, revealed on Wednesday first via a video in a tweet and then in a formal release, features games against 2019 NCAA Tournament champion Virginia — technically the still-reigning defending national champion — and 2014 Final Four foe UConn, matchups with perennial Big 12 forces Oklahoma and West Virginia, and its annual rivalry game against Florida State among its nine-game list.
The bullet-point version:
- November 25, 2020: vs. Maine (at Mohegan Sun)
- November 27, 2020: vs. Virginia (at Mohegan Sun)
- December 2, 2020: at Oklahoma
- December 6, 2020: vs. UConn
- December 12, 2020: at Florida State
- December 16, 2020: North Florida
- December 19, 2020: Florida Atlantic
- December 22, 2020: James Madison
- January 30, 2021: at West Virginia (Big 12-SEC Challenge)
It’s not hard to imagine that all of the Gators’ Power Five opponents will be ranked or close to it when they meet — all of them show up in Dick Vitale’s most recent preseason top 40 for this season, as does Florida — but Virginia is likely the most talented team on paper that the Gators will see before SEC play, and Florida State, which has taken the last six games in the rivalry with UF, is still this program’s biggest on-court challenge until further notice.
In the four games outside of the Power Five, Florida likely won’t be challenged too significantly — Maine and James Madison were among the worst Division I outfits a year ago, Florida Atlantic (led by former Mike White lead assistant Dusty May) finished just above .500 overall and two games under it in Conference USA in 2019-20, and North Florida has played Florida in each of the last five seasons, only coming within 15 points of the Gators once.
Florida’s robust non-conference scheduling has played a significant role in the Gators’ floor being no worse than the NCAA Tournament bubble for much of the last decade, with an upswing in degree of difficulty after two straight NIT bids in 2008 and 2009 under Billy Donovan leading to rigorous non-conference slates that have helped the Gators make all but two NCAA Tournaments since.