SEC Schedule Won't Get Any Easier for Gators

With its schedule currently ranked eighth, the Gators head into SEC play on Saturday with multiple games that will make it tougher. It's a good thing they are in the East division, or else the schedule strength could take a hit. In a down year across the conference, the East looks much tougher than it actually is when compared with the West.

"There's no question that the East is ranked a lot higher," Billy Donovan said. "That's probably taking too much away from the SEC West. There are good teams and good rankings from that side."

The Gators open their conference schedule on 8 p.m. Saturday when they host Ole Miss, an opponent from the West. Since the West is down this year, it's even more important for Florida to win those games.

Florida hasn't had much trouble with the West since the year 2000. It is 50-16 against teams from the West since then, and the Gators boast a 29-4 record against the West in Gainesville.

Even with the consistent success against the other division, Donovan has been in the SEC long enough to know his teams can't take any game as a guaranteed win.

"You can look at teams in the non-conference and how they've played, but when you get into an SEC environment, you can expect a battle," Donovan said. "Anything can happen. When you get into these competitive environments, anything really can happen."

RHODE ISLAND REVIEW: Florida ended its out of conference season with an 84-59 win over Rhode Island Monday night. It was the best the offense has looked this season, but the defense still played well.

The Rams came into the game on fire from behind the three-point line. They made 14 shots for three during the season opener at Pittsburgh, where they almost knocked off one of the top teams in the country. Florida held them to 4-for-23 from behind the three-point line.

"We had a good defensive game all the way around," Donovan said. "The concern coming into the game was their ability to shoot the ball from behind the line. Early in the game, we did play good defense. As the game wore on, we did give them some decent looks, and some of those shots did not go down. That was us taking them out of their rhythm to start the game."

PREPARATION FOR CONFERENCE PLAY: The tough pre-conference schedule hasn't just put the Gators against some of the best teams in the country. It has also helped them go up against different styles of offense and defense. Donovan said the Princeton style of offense is the only style his team hasn't faced in a game.

"Sometimes your issues bring themselves to light," Donovan said. "Then you have to address them and get better at them. We've played a lot of different styles, and I feel like our team is prepared. We've gotten better, and that's the biggest thing I look at."

The growth and maturity of the team has been tested. Early in the season, it would tough for them to put together back-to-back well-played games. They secured a big win at Florida State, only to lose days later against UCF. Florida beat Kansas State, only to come back and play uninspired basketball against Jacksonville.

The head coach now hopes his team has put that behind them.

"One of the growths I saw is we played a good game against Xavier, and we followed it up with a good game against Xavier," Donovan said. "I think I've seen some growth there."

INJURY REPORT: Erik Murphy will not play Saturday against Ole Miss. He is still nursing a foot injury, and the coaches will give him more time to rest.

Chandler Parsons has a sore ankle, and Erving Walker is dealing with a hip pointer. Will Yeguete was injured against Rhode Island and didn't practice Tuesday, but he was expected to practice on Thursday.

Vernon Macklin was thought to have a shoulder injury, but they believed it was a torn pectoral muscle after looking closer. His right arm was bent backwards, causing the pain. An MRI came back negative, but the pain was still there. The trainers next thought it was fractured ribs, but X-rays came back negative.

The final decision was a severely strained pectoral muscle, but Macklin is cleared to play as much as he can through the pain.

"Outside of Erik Murphy, I expect everyone to be dressed and play," Donovan said. "There's nothing severe other than Erik's ankle and foot."

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