Hoops du Gators: Non-confs are tough

The Florida men’s basketball non-conference schedule was released Tuesday, and it is better than most years.

Obviously, the big highlight is Ohio State’s trip to Gainesville on Nov. 16 (followed closely by a Dec 18 game against Kansas State in Sunrise and a Dec. 31 game at Xavier). But there also are a few other contests worth looking at closely.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was the game at American. The Eagles had a rough 2009-10 season (which included a 76-60 loss at UF), but were in the NCAA Tournament a year earlier and came thisclose to beating Villanova in the first round. It isn’t often a school like Florida agrees to a home-and-home with a mid-major, as often that can be a no-win situation for the bigger school (if they win, they were supposed to, but if they lose … well, how did that happen?).

I also think Florida Atlantic, the Dec. 23 opponent, will make the NCAA Tournament this year. That will be fun because certain points of that game could see FAU running out an all-Gainesville-native backcourt in Greg Gantt (Gainesville High School) and Dennis Mavin (The Rock, where he was a teammate of Gator freshman Scottie Wilbekin). And when those kids from in town get to play in the O’Dome, it always makes for a nice storyline. And at some point in that game, you could see prep teammates guarding one another in both backcourt spots (Wilbekin-Mavin and Plantation American Heritage’s Kenny Boynton-Ray Taylor).

Likewise, Rhode Island (Jan. 3 at UF) only graduated two players from its 26-10 squad. The Rams beat Boston College, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Northwestern, among others in 2009-10.

Other potential fun games include the Dec. 9 tilt with Kent State (24-10) and the Nov. 28 trip to Florida State, which always seems to play UF tough.

And for those who think non-conference games don’t matter all that much, how many of you think UF would have been in last year’s NCAA Tournament without the victory against Michigan State? The Gators might have gotten in, but I don’t think so.


Not only is the Gator coaching staff working hard to get its 2011 class signed come November, they’ve also started working on 2012 prospects.

Among those UF are recruiting heavily include 6-foot-4 SG Gary Harris (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern), 6-8 PF Khem Birch (Fitchburg, Mass./Notre Dame), 5-10 PG Kevin Ferrell (Indianapolis/Park Tudor), 6-3 PG L.J. Rose (Houston/Second Baptist) and 6-7 SF Alex Poythress (Clarksville, Tenn./Northeast).

The Class of 2012 isn’t a great one in state, however, 6-4 SG Michael Frazier (Tampa Plant) is being monitored closely by Billy Donovan and Co.


Remember when Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas signed with Florida?

Yeah, that gave Gator fans hope that once again Donovan had signed a power forward/center class similar to the one in 2004 that included Joakim Noah and Al Horford.

As we know now, some things just don’t work out with Vargas and Kadji being exhibits One and Two.

Vargas is now at Kentucky, where I can’t imagine him ever being a huge difference-maker, while Kadji appears headed for Miami, where he will sit out the requisite transfer year and could end up a nice fit for the Hurricanes.

No doubt it was unfair for anyone (fans, media, etc.) to compare the 6-11 Vargas and 6-10 Kadji to Noah and Horford (both of whom could be NBA All-Stars in 2011), but due to the timing of them signing with the Gators, their national recruiting ranks and their sizes, that probably was natural for anyone to do.

Either way, maybe a change in scenery is the best thing for both players. I wish them the best.