With the Southeastern Conference’s rise to one of the top leagues in college basketball, who you get to play at home and who you have to play on the road is huge in how the standings can shake out. The league announced matchups (without dates) on Wednesday, giving the Gators a look at who they will face at the O’Dome and who they’ll be travelling to take on. Here is how the schedule broke for Florida:
Home and Home Series
*Rivalry home and home series that takes place every year.
How does this seem to fair for the Gators? Let’s take a look.
First, the home games. There aren’t going to be any cupcake games in the conference, as we saw last year, but I think the Gators definitely get some of the easiest opponents in the league at home. Texas A&M lost some of their frontcourt bulk and athletic freakishness to the NBA draft with Tyler Davis and Robert Williams declaring, and Ole Miss is going throw a coaching change and some personnel movement as they change leadership. South Carolina lacks top end talent (though you know they’re going to defend) and Missouri, though coming off the good news that Jontay Porter will return, is severely lacking in the backcourt. With some of their easier games at home the Gators will hopefully be able to protect their floor and get back to the fierce home court advantage that teams of the past have had. These games should be opportunities for the Gators to take care of business and avoid home losses that tarnish a resume.
Now, the road games. Things definitely get tougher here, particularly with the way Mississippi State is projected by many analysts to be a team that will challenge for an AP Poll Top-25 spot throughout the season. The Bulldogs didn’t lose anyone of relevance this past offseason and will be rugged defensive team that should be much improved on the offensive side with all their key players a year more experienced. Auburn will be another difficult task with two elite talents, Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley, becoming eligible after sitting out last season due to their involvement with the FBI probe and their families receiving elicit funds. Though the Tigers lost leading scorer Mustapha Heron to a transfer to St. John’s to be closer to a family member with illness, the Tigers are still going to be a team that spends a great deal of time in the top-25. Arkansas is a bit a tough team to project but they will be prominently featuring big man Daniel Gafford, an NBA talent whose return to the Razorbacks was seen as a surprise to many. He gave the Gators’ thin frontline a boatload of trouble last season and will be a tough player to match up with this one. Arkansas also boasted the 4th best home court advantage in college basketball last season (1st in the SEC) according to KenPom and that makes the Bud Walton arena a challenging place to play no matter who is on the roster. Even with Collin Sexton going to the NBA draft to be a lottery pick, also expect Alabama to be tough game with Dazon Ingram, John Petty, and Donta Hall returning.
Finally, the home and home opponents. Scheduling has become as important as ever in NCAA Tournament seeding and the Gators look to be playing some of the toughest talent in the league twice which should be magnificent for their computer numbers and therefore their seeding possibility. Obviously Kentucky is bringing in a handful of 5-star players and that reliance on youth could be an issue for them but there is a lot of talk that post player Reid Travis from Stanford, who the Gators saw at the PK80, could be a graduate transfer to the Wildcats and be instantly eligible. If he were to do that, look for the Wildcats to be in many people’s preseason Final Fours. If he doesn’t, still look for the star-studded Wildcats to be a top-25 team all year long. Speaking of Final Four picks, Tennessee, with nearly all their production from last season returning is going to be many people’s pick to cut down nets with their toughness and matchup versatility. Playing the Volunteers twice may give Mike White nightmares but it will also give the Gators two more swings at marquee wins. LSU boasts a player in point guard Tremont Waters that is going to be on preseason All-American watch lists and also brings in a pair of 5-stars in Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams (a name Gators fans may be familiar with). They will be young but they will possess the raw talent to blow you away if you don’t bring your best on a given night. Georgia is ushering in a new era with the hiring of Tom Crean as head coach and though they may be near the bottom of the SEC in talent they should be well coached and should play connected. Those games are going to be far from gimmies but the Gators definitely need to look for the sweep there. The last home and home series opponent, Vanderbilt, will be one of the most interesting stories in college basketball and could give the Gators some serious problems, particularly when playing in the cavern that is Memorial Gym. Not known for their top level recruiting, the Commodores are bringing in a spectacular class including two top-15 players in Simi Shittu and Darius Garland in addition to a top-60 guard in Aaron Nesmith that I’m a big fan of. Though they might not have things totally figured out to start the season by the time they match up with the Gators in conference play they could present a very interesting challenge.
The SEC is going to be a major grind but difficult opponents means the Gators will be in the best position possible to secure a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. I’ll have more in-depth analysis of SEC opponents closer to the season but thought I’d give everyone a taste of what can be expected.