When it comes to the NCAA Tournament selection process there is nothing more important than the NET ranking of the team being evaluated and more importantly–the rankings of the opponents that team has beat or lost to.
Florida fans saw this first hand for much of the 2022-23 season when the Gators were firmly on the projected bubble until the final weeks of the season when they completely fell off the map. The reason the Gators couldn’t cross the bubble threshold and get into the projected field? A lack of quadrant-1 NET victories.
With the NET being so important, specifically getting quad-1 wins in the NET, Florida will need to get through the non-conference portion of the season with some quality wins–of course while also avoiding any pesky quad-2 or quad-3 (or worse) losses. Just how many opportunities will the Gators have to play quality games? Let’s take a look at the non-conference schedule and find out.
For a baseline projection we’re going to look at T-Rank, the projected rankings from Bart Torvik who has proved to be one of the best in the game when it comes to statistical rankings. However, they are algorithmic rankings and that means they can miss some real world context, so there will also be a Gator Country projected finish for each of these opponents along with a few comments when necessary.
As a reminder, here are the quadrants as defined by the NCAA’s NET Rankings:
Quadrant 1: Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75
Quadrant 2: Home 31-75; Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160; Neutral 101-200; Away 136-240
Quadrant 4: Home 161+; Neutral 201+; Away 241+
Last season the Gators finished 2-12 in quadrant-1 games, a huge reason why they were never really a projected NCAA Tournament team. They’ll need a much better outcome in that quadrant of games, while keeping that same volume of opportunities. Will they get a lot in the non-conference? Let’s find out.
Loyola Maryland (Home)
T-Rank Prediction: 257th
Gator Country Prediction: 288th
This starts off the category of pretty clear quad-4 games, and there is nothing wrong with that. Deon Perry, Loyola Maryland’s undersized lead guard, is extremely talented but it’s tough for teams in that league to finish even in the 250s of the NET if they don’t have a tremendous season.
T-Rank Prediction: 64th
Gator Country Prediction: 52nd
It’s games like these that are really going to define Florida’s resume at the end of the season because Virginia looks like they are extremely close to the line of being a quad-1 or quad-2 game (the cutoff here being 50th due to it being a neutral site). Florida will desperately hope Virginia gets over that threshold, but it’s going to be a challenge. The Cavaliers lack offensive talent and will rely heavily on their defense, though they are not particularly athletic and have a lot of new pieces in the system.
Florida A&M (Home)
T-Rank Prediction: 313th
Gator Country Prediction: 323rd
Completely gutted by the portal, Florida A&M will be a low quad-4 game.
Florida State (Home)
T-Rank Prediction: 110th
Gator Country Prediction: 86th
Things have really changed from when this was not only a fierce rivalry game but also a resume boosting opportunity for the Gators. The Seminoles put a lot of their offensive game plan into transfer Primo Spears before finding out he’s likely not going to be eligible and it could be another rough year. It looks like this is going to be a quad-3 game for the Gators, something that doesn’t do a lot for their resume.
T-Rank Prediction: 84th
Gator Country Prediction: 88th
With a number of preseason injuries and dismals of players the offseason couldn’t have gone much worse for Pittsburgh who appears to be a clear quad-2 game for the Gators on a neutral site. If Florida were to win this game they’d almost certainly play Baylor (who will be playing Oregon State on the first night of the event) which would give the Gators a quad-1 win opportunity, making this game with the Panthers arguably the most important contest on Florida’s slate.
Wake Forest (Road)
T-Rank Prediction: 62nd
Gator Country Prediction: 51st
Head coach Steve Forbes continually gets the best out of his guys and finishes ahead of expectations and he could absolutely do the same again this year. This is Florida’s only true road game and with the cutoff for a quad-1 road game being 75th this will hopefully be a clear quad-1 for the Gators–one of their only.
T-Rank Prediction: 287th
Gator Country Prediction: 266th
Merrimack’s commitment to the 2-3 zone always causes chaos for their opponents and they should finish higher than their projection, though it doesn’t matter much for the Gators. Clear quad-4 game.
T-Rank Prediction: 166th
Gator Country Prediction: 180th
The Spiders lost a lot of production in the transfer portal, and they finished 160th in the NET a year ago. They also have shown the ability to knock off high-major teams in the non-conference in recent years so this is a game to keep a nervous eye on.
East Carolina (Semi-Home)
T-Rank Prediction: 137th
Gator Country Prediction: 119th
RJ Felton and Brandon Johnson are talented returners that most people were shocked didn’t leave in the portal to go high-major and they could propel the Pirates to one of their best seasons in a decade–though even with a big jump in the projected finish it’s still a quad-3 game for the Gators in all likelihood.
T-Rank Prediction: 63rd
Gator Country Prediction: 72nd
Michigan finished 57th in the NET a year ago and lost Hunter Dickinson and his 19 points and 9 rebounds a game to the portal without really recovering that production with incoming talent. Florida will be desperate for the Wolverines to claw up into the 50th range or higher to make it a quad-1 game but that won’t be easy to do.
Grambling State (Home)
T-Rank Prediction: 230th
Gator Country Prediction: 230th
Be careful, Grambling State is known to pick off high-major teams with regularity and considering they’re going to be a quad-4 game it’s an upset the Gators need to avoid.
T-Rank Prediction: 212th
Gator Country Prediction: 208th
It’s worth noting that with a number of these buy-games such as Grambling State and Quinnipiac the Gators have some high-200s teams instead of the high-300s teams SEC teams often buy and they’ll hope it gives them a mild advantage in the overall NET rankings, though they are still clear quad-4 games.
This is not a particularly challenging non-conference schedule and while there is an opportunity for three or four quad-1 games if everything breaks right with opponents finishing higher than expected and the Gators beating Pittsburgh to get a chance to play Baylor there is also a not unrealistic chance the Gators end with zero. Realistically they will probably get 1-2 quad-1 games which is not particularly challenging–putting a lot of pressure on the results of the SEC schedule. In fairness–the SEC will give the Gators plenty of chances to get quality wins and it looks like Florida’s staff has chosen to make a non-conference schedule geared towards trying to establish rhythm, culture, and momentum as opposed to one designed to steal quality wins. Will this strategy pay off? Time will tell. The SEC has teams like Alabama that always schedule incredibly difficult and it works for them, and it also has teams like Auburn who perennially schedule incredibly easy–and it works out for them. Clearly there is more than one way to approach scheduling in a league as good as the SEC, and will see if Florida’s strategy of a relatively easy but far from a cupcake scheduling technique will work out in the end.