Florida Basketball: 2017-18 Non-Conference Schedule Analysis

In Features by Blake Lovell

My SEC basketball non-conference schedule breakdowns keep rolling right along with a deep dive into what’s in store for the Florida Gators.

Let’s get right to it.

vs. Gardner-Webb

Date: November 13

2016-17 Record: 19-14

Season Outlook

The Gators will open up with a team that lost its top two scorers from a season ago – LaQuincy Rideau (14.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.2 apg) and Tyrell Nelson (12.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg).

Tim Craft will have to figure out how to replace those two before this team can come close to threatening potential Top 10 teams like Florida.

vs. North Florida

Date: November 16

2016-17 Record: 15-19

Season Outlook

While the Opsreys did finish third in the Atlantic Sun last season, that momentum could be halted after losing the nation’s fourth-best scorer in do-it-all guard Dallas Moore (23.9 ppg).

Sophomore guard Garrett Sams (10.4 ppg) will try to make the transition a little easier, but he’ll need help from fellow returners Wajid Aminu (9.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Romelo Banks (7.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg).

We talked to Driscoll earlier this summer on the Marching to Madness podcast.

vs. New Hampshire

Date: November 19 

2016-17 Record: 20-12

Season Outlook

Like the previous teams on Florida’s schedule, the Wildcats have to replace a nice chunk of scoring from last year’s team.

Jaleen Smith (15.8 ppg) and Daniel Dion (13.6 ppg) are both gone, but the good news is that leading scorer Tanner Leissner (17.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg) returns to likely be in the mix for America East Player of the Year honors.

Also worth noting: New Hampshire ranked 349th in the nation last season in KenPom’s steal percentage (5.6 percent) category.

vs. Stanford

Date: November 23 (PK80 in Portland, OR)

2016-17 Record: 14-17

Season Outlook

After likely cruising through the first several games, the Gators will see a major step up in competition at the Phil Knight Invitational.

And it all starts with what will likely be one of the country’s most improved teams in Stanford.

The Cardinal return a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate in forward Reid Travis (17.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg), who led the conference in scoring and rebounding last season.

But that’s not all. Stanford gets its second and third leading scorers back in Dorian Pickens (12.6 ppg) and Michael Humphrey (9.4 ppg), plus adds a Top 15 recruiting class led by 4-star prospects Kezie Okpala and Daejon Davis.

This will be an interesting test for the Gators.

vs. Ohio State/Gonzaga

Date: November 24 (PK80 in Portland, OR)

2016-17 Record: Ohio State 17-15, Gonzaga 37-2

Season Outlook

Both Ohio State and Gonzaga will look considerably different than they did a year ago.

For the Buckeyes, the reason for that is a new head coach on the sidelines in Chris Holtmann. Unfortunately, the Holtmann era may start off a little shaky considering that Ohio State is lacking depth after roster movement before and after Thad Matta’s departure.

On the other size, the Zags are coming off the most memorable season in program history after a march to the NCAA title game. However, there’s a lot of talent to replace after the exits of Zach Collins, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, and Nigel Williams-Goss.

vs. Duke/Portland State/Butler/Texas

Date: November 26

2016-17 Record: Duke 28-9, Portland State 15-16, Butler 25-9, Texas 11-22

Season Outlook

Since this is quite the loaded field, there’s no way of knowing how things could shake out in the first few rounds.

The most intriguing matchup for Florida would obviously be against Duke after the Blue Devils came out on top in the game between the two last year at Madison Square Garden. Duke should easily be a top five team thanks to the arrivals of Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter, Gary Trent Jr., and the rest of the talented 2017 recruiting class.

And then there’s Shaka Smart’s Texas team, with the Longhorns likely taking a big leap forward due to freshman big man Mohamed Bamba signing with the Longhorns.

vs. Florida State

Date: December 4

2016-17 Record: 26-9

Season Outlook

The Seminoles will look to build off a 26-win season a year ago, but it won’t be easy after losing Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Issac, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes.

However, Leonard Hamilton will have options on a versatile roster that includes Terance Mann (8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and a host of talented freshmen.

If Hamilton’s No. 12 recruiting class can make an impact right away and help carry the scoring load, Florida State could have a shot at surprising some people in the ACC this season.

vs. Loyola Chicago

Date: December 6

2016-17 Record: 18-14

Season Outlook

This is a game that many will overlook, but it may wind up being one of the most intriguing games on Florida’s schedule.

There’s a few reasons why. For starters, it comes two days after a rivalry game against Florida State. And then there’s the whole thing about Loyola returning three players that averaged 11.6 points per game or more last season – Aundre Jackson (14.1 ppg), Donte Ingram (13.6 ppg), and Clayton Custer (11.6 ppg).

The Rambers are without question one of the favorites to win the Missouri Valley this season, so the Gators better pay attention to this one.

vs. Cincinnati

Date: December 9 (Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, NJ)

2016-17 Record: 30-6

Season Outlook

The challenging stretch continues for Florida. Mike White’s team goes from the daunting PK80 slate to a week featuring an ACC sleeper, a MVC favorite, and an AAC favorite.

But Mick Cronin’s squad will likely be more than just an AAC favorite. This is a team that returns several major contributors from last year’s 30-win season, which will make the Bearcats hard to stop on the offensive end of the court.

The even better news is that they finished in the Top 10 in the country in scoring defense (61.3 ppg), and continuing that effectiveness could lead to Cincinnati being a Final Four-caliber squad.

vs. Clemson

Date: December 16 (Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, FL)

2016-17 Record: 17-16

Season Outlook

There’s no other way to say it: This is a big year for Brad Brownell.

Of course, we also said that going into last season, with the Tigers having to settle for a 12th place finish in the ACC.

So, with Jaron Blossomgame gone (as well as Avry Holmes and Sidy Djitte), will Clemson be good enough to move beyond that mark this season?

That’s the question on everyone’s minds.

vs. James Madison

Date: December 20

2016-17 Record: 10-23

Season Outlook

Louis Rowe’s first season did not go well, but a completely retooled roster will give the Dukes hope for the future.

James Madison added 10 new players to the roster this offseason, which should lead to a lot of intrigue early on in seeing how the chemistry comes together.

However, it could be another long season for the Dukes while Rowe continues to lay the foundation in Harrisonburg.

vs. Incarnate Word

Date: December 22

2016-17 Record: 12-17

Season Outlook

Last season’s record wasn’t pretty, but what was pretty was the Cardinals’ offensive style.

Incarnate Word will continue to go up and down the floor on offense (32nd in KenPom’s adjusted tempo category last year), and that should bode well for the three double-figure scorers that return in Jalin Hart (15.9 ppg), Simi Socks (15.1 ppg), and Shawn Johnson (14.1 ppg).

Points will be scored in this game.

vs. Baylor

Date: January 27 (Big 12/SEC Challenge)

2016-17 Record: 27-8

Season Outlook

Scott Drew enters his 15th season in Waco and will have once again have an NCAA Tournament roster to work with.

Point guard Manu Lecomte (12.2 ppg, 3.8 apg) will attract a lot of attention after a stellar junior season, and 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (9.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg) should have a monster senior year after blocking 2.5 shots per game last season.

With two excellent coaches roaming the sideline and a lot of talent on each roster, this will be fun to watch.

Overall Schedule Analysis

There is a lot of intrigue with this Florida non-conference schedule.

It starts out with several games that should allow the Gators to find a rhythm, but then picks up dramatically with the trip to Portland for the PK80.

However, it doesn’t stop there. The Florida State/Loyola/Cincinnati/Clemson stretch will be far from easy, a team Incarnate Word could make things interesting with a plethora of scorers at its disposal, and Baylor will bring a unique physicality as always.

So after playing one of the toughest schedules in the country a season ago, Florida will follow it up with another difficult slate that will tell us more about how far this team can go come March.

Blake Lovell is the founder of Southeast Hoops. He hosts the Marching to Madness podcast, which features interviews with coaches around the country. He also hosts a weekly college basketball show on WNSR 560AM/95.9 FM in Nashville. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Athlon Sports, Rivals, FanRag Sports, and many more.