Florida beat Stetson on Tuesday night to improve to 6-1 heading into its contest Friday in Tampa against Vermont.
But one has to wonder if a schedule designed to bring a young team along gingerly will come back to haunt them.
Florida won five of its six games against teams with a Ratings Index Percentage of 230 or lower. Hence, Florida’s strength of schedule currently ranks 291 out of 343 Division I teams.
The strength of schedule will decrease by January, but not by much. Of the eight remaining non-conference games, only two teams (Georgia Southern at 75 and Ohio State at 21) rank among the top 100 in RPI. There are also matchups coming up with Florida A&M (222 RPI), Charleston Southern (301) and High Point (312).
Of course, Florida coach Billy Donovan is counting on his team’s current RPI (212) to plummet once Southeastern Conference play begins. But that’s not a given. The SEC currently ranks 10th in the nation in Conference RPI, behind upstarts such as the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley and Mountain West. The league already has suffered some bad non-conference losses (Alabama losing to Belmont, Kentucky falling to Gardner Webb).
While the RPI is not the end-all, be-all, it does carry influence when the NCAA Tournament Committee meets to determine at-large bids for its 65 teams. With its non-conference loss to Florida State and a possible loss at Ohio State, Florida may need as many as nine or 10 SEC regular-season wins (plus one or two SEC Tournament wins) to extend its string of NCAA Tournament appearances to 10.
Beyond the numbers, a young Florida team not exposed to a high level of competition could use more true tests heading into the SEC grind. Losses in November, after all, are not as costly as losses in February and March.