Exciting news dropped on Wednesday as the Gators announced their 2020-21 non-conference schedule.
When plans for a college basketball season were officially announced with a cap of 27 games per team (so long as they take part in a pre-season tournament, or “Multi Team Event” in NCAA nomenclature) many teams threw whatever schedule they had in the trash. Travel, testing concerns, and the fact that many high-major leagues are going to more regular season games than normal completely shifted how the complexion of the season and teams were left scrambling to put together a schedule.
Fortunately for Florida, their season largely stayed intact without major changes needed. Of course, that is said with the caveat that anything could change between now and November 25th when the season is set to begin (35 days from now…but who’s counting?) but right now it’s looking largely like the Gators’ schedule is a lot like what it was originally going to look like.
Here is each non-conference opponent the Gators will take on and what Florida can expect.
The multi team event Florida is involved in at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut where the Gators will open against Maine. The Black Bears are likely going to be extremely overmatched as a team at the bottom of the America East Conference but it’s worth noting that they have one of the most unique roster makeups of any team in the country.
12 of 14 scholarship players last year were international players.
Now, we’ve seen more and more international players in college basketball every year but Maine has taken things to another level, probably a wise choice given the fact that Maine isn’t known for producing basketball talent.
Okay, this is where things get interesting.
So, Mike White has promised that the Gators are going to play fast this season and that must be something he is extremely confident in because in game two of the season the Gators are taking on the team synonymous with slow-paced basketball, the Virginia Cavaliers.
Not only is Virginia better at slowing down their opponents than anyone in the country, they’re also very talented this year. Likely starting the year as a top-5 team in the AP Poll, this will be a major challenge for the Gators.
Florida’s first true road opponent will be the Oklahoma Sooners, coached by former Gators’ bench boss Lon Kruger.
Any high-major road game is the chance for a major resume boost, something that could be incredibly valuable in what could end up being an abbreviated season, so this will be an important game. The Sooners were stout defensively last year and are returning their starting backcourt so offense could start coming a bit more easily to them. This should be a difficult road game but one that is winnable for the Gators and would be a great boost to their resume.
This one is on the docket but between you and me, cross your fingers that this actually happens. The Huskies would have to travel quite a ways to come to central Florida, something that is generally being discouraged and could be even more discouraged by the time this game rolls around, and that makes this contest a bit shaky.
However, for the time being this game is scheduled and should be expected. UConn is loaded with talented returners including James Bouknight, one of the most talented guards in the country who wasn’t able to lace it up when the Gators and Huskies played a year ago.
Florida got embarrassed on UConn’s home floor a year ago and with the return game in Gainesville the Gators will be looking for revenge but the Huskies are scrappy defensively with some talented scorers on the perimeter and the Gators will need to be on their A-game to take this one.
It looks like Florida learned their lesson–try not to schedule Florida State for the second game of the year because if you’re not totally ready they’ll overcome you with size and athleticism.
Getting a bit deeper into the non-conference season with the Gators having more returning players than normal you’d hope they’d fare better against the rival Seminoles but once again they’re looking like a formidable opponent. Florida State returns most of their backcourt and is bringing in a new crop of 7 footers from the JUCO and Canadian university ranks and once again they’ll look to bully the Gators on the interior. This is the most athletic and long the Gators have been in the Mike White era and that should really help in this matchup.
Please don’t lose again.
The North Florida Ospreys have become a regular opponent for the Gators and while they have shown some good fight in past matchups this year will likely be a lot more difficult for them after graduating four starters. Their three-happy attack has earned them the nickname of the “Birds of Trey” and they’ll live up to that billing against the Gators putting up tons of threes, but it should be a chance for Florida to get some rhythm going in an easy win.
What we’ve all been waiting for, the grand return of former assistant coach Dusty May! That might be overstating it a bit, but Coach May was fantastic on the recruiting trail as Mike White’s lead assistant before taking on the Florida Atlantic job and it will be great for him to be back on campus. Two notes on this one–first, May’s son Jack is a walk-on with the team this year after a high school career that saw him fill up the statsheet. Additionally, look for Kerry Blackshear Jr.’s little brother Kenan who had a solid freshman season for the Owls a year ago.
This game, to be played on December 22nd, should be a gift for the Gators entering the holiday season on a high. James Madison was a disastrous basketball team last year and then lost their best player Dwight Wilson to the transfer portal.
Morgantown, West Virginia
In the Big 12/SEC Challenge the Gators drew the Mountaineers, a team that will once again be known as one of the most physical defensive teams in the country. They’re returning four starters from a team that was particularly stout defensively on the inside and they’ll present a major challenge for the Gators. In seeing Virginia, Florida State, and West Virginia the Gators are realistically playing against three of the top five defenses in the country in their non-conference slate and that should set them up brilliantly for SEC play. Sure, it might mean a frustrating night, or two, or three, but those challenges could absolutely play dividends in March.