GAINESVILLE, Fla. — We interrupt the anticipation of the college football season to unveil the Florida Gators’ schedule for the 2014-15 basketball season.
The slate for the two-time defending Southeastern Conference championships became official Friday night, courtesy the league office. The Gators, who went 36-3 season on the way to the Final Four during 2013-14, already knew about their latest in a line of challenging non-league schedules, featuring dates against Miami, Georgetown, Kansas and defending national champion Connecticut.
Now, they know the rest.
The SEC schedule will include four Super Tuesday games on ESPN, four games on the new SEC Network (plus the Nov. 14 season opener against William & Mary) and two Saturday showdowns (the first in prime-time on ESPN, the second to wrap the league’s regular season on CBS) against rival Kentucky.
Coach Billy Donovan and his ’13-14 Gators became the first team in league history to go unbeaten in an 18-game regular season, then swept their three games in the SEC Tournament to post a perfect 21-0 mark against conference foes, part of a school-record 30-game winning streak.
The four seniors who keyed that remarkable run — SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin, along with Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete — are gone. What they did and what they meant to the Florida fan base will never be duplicated.
But now they’ve moved on and so will the program, which now turns to junior guard Michael Frazier (right), a handful of role players from last season, a trio of transfers and a freshman or two.
Here’s a way early game-by-game breakdown of the 2014-15 schedule.
Nov. 6: Barry (exhibition)
The buzz: It’s the second straight year the Gators have made their exhibition debut against an opponent from the Division II Sunshine State Conference. They beat Florida Southern 110-88 in the warmup last year.
Nov. 14: William & Mary, Time TBA (SEC Network)
The buzz: The Tribe, out of the Colonial Athletic Conference, is one of five charter Division I programs never to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, having gone 0-8 all-time tournament-clinching games. That record includes a 75-74 loss to Delaware in 2014.
Nov. 17: Miami, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
The buzz: The first meeting in the off-and-on in-state rivalry since the 2009 NIT. The Gators won that one 74-60 and lead the all-time series 45-22, dating to 1928. This is the front end of a home-and-home contract. UF will play at Coral Gables in the fall of 2015.
Nov. 21: Louisiana-Monroe, Time/TV TBA
The buzz: The Warhawks, out of the Sun Belt Conference, went 10-17 last season. Their coach is Keith Richard. Unfortunately, no "S." Otherwise, some clever Rolling Stones jokes would come from the student section.
Nov. 26: vs Georgetown (Battle 4 Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas), (AXS TV), 9:30 p.m.
The buzz: The Gators and Hoyas get to finish what they started Nov. 9, 2012 when condensation on the floor of the USS Bataan halted the majestic Navy/Marines Corps Classic at Naval Station Mayport at halftime. Florida led Georgetown 27-23 at the time. Only a handful of players who were on deck will be around for this one.
Nov. 27: vs UAB or Wisconsin (Battle 4 Atlantis), 3:30 or 9:30 p.m.
The buzz: How the Gators fare in the first round against the Hoyas — whether they advance in the winner’s bracket or loser’s bracket — will determine their second-day opponent. Should UF get the Badgers, who could be a preseason Top 5 team, it’ll mark the third straight year the two have played, not to mention a showdown between the two teams ousted from the national semifinals at the 2014 Final Four.
Nov. 28: vs Butler, North Carolina, Oklahoma or UCLA (Battle 4 Atlantis), Time/TV TBA
The buzz: Some solid RPI points, whoever the opponent is.
Dec. 5: at Kansas, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
The buzz: The 2013 version of the Big 12/SEC Challenge matched up the defending conference champions from both leagues — and will again in 2014. Last year, it was freshmen Andrew Wiggins (the eventual No. 1 pick in the NBA draft; right vs. Dorian Finney-Smith) and Joel Embiid (No. 3) in Gainesville. This season, the Jayhawks will debut two more McDonald’s All-Americans in 6-foot-9, 235-pound center/forward Cliff Alexander, out of Chicago, and guard/forward Kelly Oubre Jr., out of Richmond, Texas. The Gators have not been to Lawrence, Kan., since 1994.
Dec. 8: Yale, Time/TV TBA
The buzz: The Gators and Bulldogs seem like familiar foes, yet have only played twice in their histories. Yet, this will mark the third time in four years the two teams meet and the end of a three-game contract that got UF two home games in exchange for a trip to New Haven, Conn., two seasons ago. The Gators won 79-58 on Jan. 6, 2013.
Dec. 12: Texas Southern, Time/TV TBA
The buzz: The Tigers are coming off the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in their history, but they didn’t stick around very long. Southern lost 81-69 to Cal-Poly in a matchup of 16 seeds in the First Four at Dayton. UF and Southern have played just once, when the Gators, as defending national champs, won 83-27.
Dec. 14: Jacksonville, Time/TV TBA
The buzz: The last time the Dolphins visited the O’Dome around Christmastime was in 2010 — and they put coal in the Gators’ stockings with a shocking 71-68 overtime upset of a UF team that went on to win the SEC regular-season crown. UF players can bank on that coming up in Donovan’s run-up conversations with his team.
Dec. 20: Wake Forest (Orange Bowl Classic at Sunrise), Time/TV TBA
The buzz: This game marks UF’s first after the end of the fall semester, which means the eligibility of transfer forward Alex Murphy, by way of Duke, will kick in. Murphy is not the shooter older brother Erik was, but his athleticism in transition and ability to finish will be a huge boost. As for the Demon Deacons, they lost just one senior off a team that went 17-16 overall and finished in a tie for 11th place in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings at 6-12. Two of those six wins, though, came against North Carolina and Duke.
Dec. 30: at Florida State, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
The buzz: The Gators and rival Seminoles haven’t played this late in the year since the 2004-05 season. UF survived a football eve scare last year in Gainesville to win 67-66 on a Dorian Finney-Smith’s free throw with 1.3 seconds to go. That gave the Gators a five-game winning streak (and 43-22 edge) in the series. UF has won eight of 11 at Tallahassee, dating to 1990, including a 72-47 blowout in 2012.
Jan. 3: Connecticut, Time/TV TBA
The buzz: Yeah, this one figures to get the Rowdy Reptiles’ collective attention. Heck, they may be camping out now. Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill (left) will figure prominently in the rematch of the Final Four showdown, won handily by the Huskies. The game is the back end of a home-and-home, two-year contract. In case anyone forgot, UF lost at Storrs last December when Shabazz Napier (officially a Gators nemesis now) hit a 15-footer at the buzzer. The Gators did not lose again until … well … you know.
Jan. 7: at South Carolina, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
The buzz: The SEC opener will bring back pleasant memories for Frazier. His last time at Colonial Life Arena, all Frazier did was score a career-high 37 points — the most by a Gator since Joakim Noah scored 37 in 2006 — on 11-for-18 shooting from 3-point range in the next-to-last regular-season game of the ’13-14 season.
Jan. 10: Mississippi State, Time TBA (FSN)
The buzz: The Bulldogs are coming off a last-place finish in the SEC standings, having gone just 3-15 in league play, including 14 losses in their final 15 games. Under Ricky Ray, MSU always plays hard, though.
Jan. 15: Auburn, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
The buzz: The O’Dome crowd is sure to make first-year Tigers coach and comeback kid Bruce Pearl’s return to Gainesville a warm and welcoming one. In six seasons as coach at Tennessee (2006-11), Pearl went 8-5 against Florida, winning eight of the first nine meetings, with a 3-1 mark against UF’s back-to-back NCAA championship teams.
Jan. 17: at Georgia, 2 p.m. (CBS)
The buzz: Mark Fox is a very underrated coach. Look no further than the Bulldogs surprising tie with Kentucky for second-place tie in the SEC standings last season despite a relatively unknown roster of players. The Gators did not go to Stegeman Coliseum in ’13-14.
Jan. 20: LSU, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
The buzz: The Tigers were one of the most talented teams in the league last season, but too often lapsed defensively en route to a 9-9 conference mark. Johnny O’Bryant III was a second-round draft pick of Milwaukee and guard Anthony Hickey transferred to Oklahoma State, but 6-8, 220-pound forward Jordan Mickey is back. And remember this name: Elbert Robinson, out of Garland, Texas. He’s 7-foot, 322 pounds and moves.
Jan. 24: at Ole Miss, Time TBA (SEC Network)
The buzz: Admit it. A game with the Rebels won’t be nearly as much without Marshall Henderson.
Jan. 27: at Alabama, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
The buzz: The first of three late "Super Tuesday" tips — all on the road, by the way — sends the Gators to Tuscaloosa for the third time in four years. Donovan has a nine-game winning streak against the Crimson Tide, with seven of those coming against former assistant (and dear friend) Anthony Grant.
Jan. 31: Arkansas, 1 p.m. (CBS)
The buzz: The Gators and Razorbacks played a thriller last year at Fayetteville, where Scottie Wilbekin threw in a hanging bank shot over 6-10 forward Bobby Portis with two seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. UF won 84-82. The Hogs, despite a sweep of Kentucky, had another poor season on the road and settled for an NIT berth. Portis is back and projected as a first-round NBA pick next season.
Feb. 3: at Vanderbilt, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
The buzz: The Commodores, despite a second straight losing season, gave the Gators fits at Memorial Coliseum late in the year. No news there. It’s a tough place to play and will be again next season. Center Damian Jones, at 6-10 and 230, showed freshman flashes, but count on him making a big jump in his sophomore season.
Feb. 7: Kentucky, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
The buzz: The Wildcats’ roster, with a bunch of former McDonald’s All-Americans opting to stick around and four more on the way, is being bandied as one of the deepest, most talented in college basketball history. Wow. Yes, 40-0 is already being talked about in the Commonwealth State, so just where the Wildcats sit in their quest for perfection when they arrive to face the Gators (winners of four of five in the series after their historic three-game sweep a year ago) remains to be seen. You wonder how much talent one team can juggle, but then you remember how much that ’13-14 UK team improved in the final month of the season on its way to the NCAA final loss against UConn.
Feb. 12: Ole Miss, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
The buzz: Again, don’t see Rebels point guard Jarvis Summers engendering the same … um … passion from the Rowdies as the "Native Flash."
Feb. 14: at Texas A&M, Time TBA (SEC Network)
The buzz: Just doesn’t get any better than Valentine’s Day in College Station, Texas. Great arena, by the way.
Feb. 18: Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
The buzz: The Gators have won 11 of the last 12 against the Commodores in Gainesville.
Feb. 21: at LSU, 1 p.m. (CBS)
The buzz: Rowdies love the early Saturday games … especially on national TV.
Feb. 24: at Missouri, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
The buzz: UF made its first SEC trip to Columbia, Mo., two seasons ago and suffered a brutal meltdown, blowing a 13-point lead in the final 11 minutes of a 63-60 loss. Mizzou played Florida tough twice last season; the first in Chris Walker’s much-ballyhooed debut game, then again in the SEC Tournament. Both times the Gators took control late. A win for the Tigers in either one of those, likely would have put them in the NCAA field.
Feb. 28: Tennessee, Time TBA (ESPN2)
The buzz: After dropping three straight and nine of 13 in the series, the Gators beat the Volunteers three times last season and also said goodbye to Coach Cuonzo Martin, who stunned UT by bolting after three seasons to take the job at California. Enter Donnie Tyndall, who went 56-17 at Southern Miss, including a 25-7 mark in Conference USA. Before that, he was at Morehead State, which pulled the infamous first-round upset of Louisville in 2011. The guy can coach. FYI: No trip to Knoxville for the Gators this season.
March 3: Texas A&M, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
The buzz: The Aggies were a tough team to figure in going 18-16 last season and 8-10 in SEC play. They lost to North Texas by 20, yet beat Tennessee twice, beat Arkansas, LSU and Missouri — and helped knock the latter three off the NCAA bubble. Oh, they also lost 69-36 at the O’Dome, as the Gators held the Aggies to fewest points by an SEC opponent since 1950.
March 7: at Kentucky, 2 p.m. (CBS)
The buzz: Senior Day at Rupp Arena will come with the emotional singing of "My Old Kentucky Home." As has become the case, though, it won’t come with a lot of UK seniors taking part in the game. It could be the final home game for a host of underclassmen, though: the Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson, not to mention hotshot freshmen such as Karl Towns Jr., Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and point guard Tyler Ulis (who mocked Wilbekin during the Final Four loss on Twitter). UF’s win at Rupp last year was just its ninth in 57 trips to Lexington.
March 11-15: SEC Tournament at Nashville, Tenn., TBA (SEC Network/ESPN)
The buzz: After one last visit to the Georgia Dome — where Florida capped its stunning and sterling season (above right), the SEC Tournament heads to its now mostly permanent home in the Music City, where the event will be staged nine times from 2015 to 2025 (with one stop each in Tampa and St. Louis along the way). The last time it was in Nashville, the Gators reached the 2013 title game, only to blow a double-digit halftime lead and fall to Ole Miss and a certain shooting guard (see Flash, Native).