Avoiding early upsets

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Each November, as college basketball opens, the excitement revolves around the inevitable upsets.

Over the weekend, 18th ranked Mississippi State fell at home to Rider 88-74. Alabama, in former Florida assistant coach Anthony Grant’s debut, lost 71-67 at home to defending Ivy League champion Cornell. And No. 4 Kentucky needed a last-second shot from heralded freshman John Wall to beat Miami of Ohio 72-70.

Late Monday night, Cal-State Fullerton kicked off ESPN’s 24-hour basketball marathon with a stunning 68-65 double-overtime win over UCLA.

Yet Florida has so far has avoided early upset losses during coach Billy Donovan’s 14-season tenure. Donovan is 56-7 lifetime in November at UF. All seven of the losses have come against major Division I programs.

A look at the losses:

Nov. 24, 2008 – Syracuse 89, Florida 83 (in Kansas City)

Nov. 23, 2007 — Florida State 65, Florida 51 (at O’Connell Center)

Nov. 25, 2006 — Kansas 82, Florida 80 (in Las Vegas)

Nov. 27, 2002 — Stanford 69, Florida 65 (Preseason NIT, New York)

Nov. 9, 2001 – Arizona 75, Florida 71 (Preseason NIT, New York)

Nov. 23, 1999 – Purdue 79, Florida 68 OT  (neutral court)

Nov. 29, 1996 – Creighton 74, Florida 73 (San Juan Shootout)

Though Donovan has done a good job avoiding November upsets, he’s not surprised it can happen.

“Every time you step on the floor and compete anything can happen,” Donovan said. “I think the one thing about the game of basketball and the 3-point line that also alters the game in a lot of respects. It’s early in the year. A lot of teams come in with a nothing to lose mentality.

“But I think every game provides a different set of challenges for you. I think it’s amazing to me that in the month in March, games like that are upsets in the NCAA Tournament, there’s so much more magnitude placed on that rather than if people were paying attention in November they would see that all of the time.”

With Georgia Southern and Troy at the O’Connell Center this week, the question remains, could one of those two catch the Gators looking ahead to next week. Florida’s Thanksgiving week includes games against Florida State, No. 2 Michigan State and a third game with either Rutgers or UMass.

Georgia Southern, in particular, has made Florida nervous in recent years. The Gators needed a career day from senior Dan Werner (20 points) to rally back from a seven-point halftime deficit and beat Georgia Southern 52-49 in Jacksonville two seasons ago. Last season, Georgia nearly let a 15-point halftime lead slip away before holding on to beat Georgia Southern 88-81.

“They may be smaller schools but they still have talent,” Florida sophomore point guard Erving Walker said. “If you don’t bring your A game they can beat you. It just puts you more on edge because you don’t want to be one of those schools that gets knocked off.”