Florida has put together its most challenging non-conference basketball schedule in Billy Donovan’s 16 years as coach.
Yet the schedule includes a quirk — just one game at the O’Connell Center in December. That home game will take place Dec. 19 against Southeastern Louisiana.
Florida associate athletic director Mike Hill, who is involved in basketball scheduling, said the one home December game wasn’t by design.
“We have an awareness that because students leave in December, games are going to be less attended,” Hill said. “But it was more of a quirk than anything else. The return (road) games with Arizona (Dec. 15) and Florida State (Dec. 5) fell in December. Then you have the game in Kansas City against Kansas State over the holidays (Dec. 22) and the Orange Bowl Classic (Dec. 29, in Sunrise, vs. Air Force), so we were pretty filled up for the month.”
Another factor working against the Gators in scheduling December home games — the expansion of the Southeastern Conference schedule. With 18 league games instead of 16, Florida could only schedule 13 non-conference games instead of 15. The maximum the NCAA allows teams to play in the regular season is 31, unless teams play in an exempt tournament. Then, the maximum number increases to 33. Florida chose not to play in an exempt tournament this season.
“Had we had those two extra games to play with, maybe we could have slid another game or two in there,” Hill said.
Traditionally, Florida has scheduled two to three games in Gainesville during Christmas Break. With students away from campus, it gave fans from Alachua County area more of a chance to watch games.
But those games were poorly attended, and Florida had its share of home letdowns during the holidays. On Dec. 22 2009, Florida suffered a 67-66 loss to South Alabama on a last-second shot. On Dec. 20, 2010, in an afternoon game following a win less than two days after a win against Kansas State, the Gators lost 71-68 in overtime to Jacksonville.
The good news? Florida fans will get a chance to see some marquee opponents at home in November. The big games include a Nov. 14 matchup at the O’Dome vs. Wisconsin, a Nov. 23 home game vs. UCF and a Nov. 29 home game against Marquette in the SEC-Big East Challenge.
“Our goal is to have at least two marquee games at home a season,” Hill said. “We were able to do that by getting Wisconsin and Marquette to come to the O’Connell Center.”
Overall, UF’s schedule includes four teams that finished in the RPI Top 25 last season, five teams that finished in the RPI top 50 and eight teams that finished in the RPI Top 100. The average RPI of UF’s 13 non-conference opponents is 104.4.
Florida changed its approach in non-conference schedule after coming up on the short end on the NCAA Tournament bubble during back-to-back NIT seasons in 2008 and 2009. Florida had 20-plus wins in both seasons going into Selection Sunday, but failed to secure an at-large bid due to weak non-conference schedules.
“First of all, you have to give Coach Donovan a lot of credit for the change in philosophy,” Hill said. “A lot of coaches would have resisted the change but he’s been on board and enthusiastic about it. I think it’s paid some significant dividends.”
Here’s a look at the RPI of Florida’s non-conference opponents (based on CollegeRPI.com, March 11, 2012).
— Marquette 7
— Florida State 12
— Georgetown 14
— Wisconsin 23
— Kansas State 44
— UCF 51
— Middle Tennessee State 52
— Arizona 74
— Yale 103
— Air Force 170
— Savannah State 189
— Alabama State 304
— Southeast Louisiana 314