It’s been a rocky start to the 2014-15 season for the Florida basketball team.
But after dropping under .500 for the first time since 1998 after a loss at Kansas, Florida (6-4) righted the ship with three straight home wins last week.
The homestand, however, produced mixed results at the turnstiles. According to paid attendance, Florida averaged 9,349 fans during the three games at the 11,500-seat O’Connell Center. And that accounts for tickets sold. There were patches of empty blue seats at the O’Dome for games against Yale, Texas Southern and Jacksonville.
But that’s not necessarily a harbinger. According to Florida associate athletic director Mike Hill, season-ticket sales are up 16 percent compared to last season. Hill said he expects UF’s next home game on Jan. 3 against defending national champion Connecticut, a rematch of last year’s Final Four, to be a sellout.
“The only tickets we have left are ones returned from students (due to the semester break), and I expect we will be able to move those fairly quickly,” Hill said.
Attendance has been an issue for Gator basketball despite unprecedented success under Billy Donovan, who has led the Gators to four Final Fours over the past 14 seasons. Florida showed some attendance gains during its 2013-14 Final Four year and Hill said the momentum from that season has carried over into more sales this year.
“We’re seeing fans in the third deck in November and December games now,” Hill said. “That didn’t happen two years ago. So I think we are seeing some progress. I’m not saying we are satisfied. Our goal is to have the building full for every game.”
Of course, the national perception remains that Florida fans should support its team more given its level of success.
“The magic of Billy Donovan is, he can play a game in November with 5,000 people in the O’Dome and it doesn’t bother him,” ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg said. “Coaching his team, that’s what he’s concerned about. Now, some other guys, that would bother.”
Donovan’s stance on the attendance issue has long been it is not his place to judge what other people do with their time and their money.
“I love basketball,” Donovan said. “And I almost reference it back to when I was a player. When I worked out and I was in the gym, no one was in there. I went and played by myself. I went to the part and played five-and-five and their wasn’t an audience there. I love what I’m doing. I love being with my team. I’ve never gotten wrapped up in that kind of stuff. It has no bearing on how our team is going to go out there and play.
“I think anybody would love to see 18,000 every single game. There’s no question about that. But that’s really out of my control.”
— Florida enters this week 125 in RPI according to NCAA.com’s official rankings. Unfortunately, Florida’s upcoming three-game stretch won’t provide as big an RPI boost as originally anticipated. Wake Forest (192 RPI), Florida State (197) and Connecticut (93) are all underperforming this season. The Gators’ best win this season has come against Yale (38 RPI). Florida is 1-3 vs. RPI Top 50 teams and 1-4 vs. the RPI Top 100. The good news? Florida will have a chance to boost its RPI in Southeastern Conference play with games at Georgia (Jan. 16, 52 RPI), LSU (Jan. 20, 15 RPI), Arkansas (Jan. 31, 17 RPI) and Kentucky (Feb. 7, 1 RPI).
— Florida sophomore center Chris Walker’s stock is dropping, but he’s still projected as a late first-round draft pick in ESPN.com Chad Ford’s latest NBA mock draft. Walker had a string of three straight games scoring in double figures snapped with a 2 point, 5 rebound effort last Saturday against Jacksonville. For the season, Walker is averaging 7.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in eight games (one start). Last summer, the 6-foot-10 Walker was projected as high as the 11th pick overall in some NBA mock drafts.