"This is a very, very competitive schedule, certainly we feel it's going to be an exciting year," said Florida head coach Billy Donovan. "To have the opportunity to have nationally televised games against programs like Arizona, Maryland and Louisville in addition to an already strong SEC schedule, we feel like we've put together a challenging non-conference schedule that will prepare us well for league play."
The Gators open the 2003-04 season on Nov. 25 at the O'Connell Center against Montana State before traveling to Springfield, Mass., on Nov. 28 for a nationally televised tilt with perennial power Arizona in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.
On Dec. 4 the Gators will travel to the brand new Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena to face Central Florida. It will mark the Gators' 73rd appearance in Jacksonville, but their first since Jan. 19, 1998 in Billy Donovan's third year as Florida head coach.
The Gators will endure a difficult 10-day stretch in mid-December. Maryland comes to the O'Connell Center on Dec. 10 in a match to be televised nationally on ESPN, while on Dec. 13, Donovan faces his former mentor Rick Pitino, as the Gators will travel to Louisville for the first time since 1972 in another match-up to be televised by ESPN. Florida wraps up the stretch with a rematch against West Virginia in the Orange Bowl Classic in Miami.
Additional non-conference games in December for the Gators include Florida A&M on Dec. 2, Stetson on Dec. 6, Northeastern on Dec. 22 and Eastern Kentucky with former administrative assistant Tim Maloney on Dec. 27.
The annual Florida State game moves to Gainesville this year, as the Seminoles come to the O'Connell Centeron Jan. 3 in the final non-conference game of the season for Florida.
The Gators open SEC play at South Carolina on Jan. 7 and then return to Gainesville for the SEC home opener against Tennessee on Jan. 10. Mississippi State and Auburn both come to the O'Connell Center in January, while the Gators travel to Vanderbilt, Alabama and Tennessee during the first month of league play.
Kentucky visits the O'Connell Center on Feb. 3 in a nationally televised showdown on ESPN, while Vanderbilt, LSU and South Carolina all come to Gainesville in February. Florida travels to Georgia, Ole Miss and Arkansas in February.
For the second straight year, the Gators close out the regular season with Georgia and Kentucky back-to-back, the latter of the two being a nationally televised match-up on CBS on March 7.
The SEC Tournament will be held Atlanta from March 11-14, while the NCAA Tournament begins on March 18 and runs through April 5.
In all, Florida will make a minimum of nine appearances on national television, with seven games scheduled for the various ESPN networks and two on CBS. 12 of Florida's 16 SEC games were picked up by the league's television package. Florida will make 10 appearances on the Sunshine network during the 2003-04 season.
Midnight Madness will be held on Friday Oct. 17, while practice will officially begin on Oct. 18. The Gators will also host a pair of exhibition games at the O'Connell Center, taking on the EA Sports All-Stars on Nov. 10 and Team Nike on Nov. 18.
Florida returns 10 players from last year's squad that went 25-8, reached No. 1 in both major polls for the first time and made the school's fifth straight NCAA appearance.
To view the complete 2003-04 schedule, go to -
Billy Donovan's Press Conference Regarding 2003-04 Schedule
August 22, 2003
"I think like most years it's always difficult to get the schedule finalized. We feel like this year the schedule's very competitive, certainly early in the year. We're playing Arizona in the Tip-Off Classic on national TV, we have a chance to play on the road at Louisville, we get Maryland at home, we play West Virginia at a neutral site and, obviously, we've got Florida State and some other in-state schools, so I feel like the schedule is very, very competitive and challenging. I think it's a schedule that will get us prepared as we move into the SEC. I think when looking at our league this year that, from top to bottom, a lot of teams have lost a lot of players. Certainly, we lose three very good players in (Brett) Nelson, (Justin) Hamilton and (Matt) Bonner, but I think as you go down the list of schools, a lot of people have lost players that have been very key in this league for a number of years and I think you'll see a lot of new faces and new stars arising in our league. We feel like we've got a very, very good blend of some games on the road and some games here at home."
On the non-conference schedule:
"I think it's good. Again, we're playing Maryland, we're playing at Louisville, we're playing Arizona at a neutral site, West Virginia at a neutral site and then Florida State at home. We feel like we've got a great, great blend of teams from a lot of different conferences – some neutral site, some on the road and some at home. That's what you would want – to give your basketball team a taste of a lot of different conferences and a lot of different teams. I think you're always looking to be on national TV. I think with ESPN and CBS in our non-conference and SEC schedule, we'll probably be on national TV nine or 10 times, which is always good. Some of the games were made-for-TV games. The Arizona game was, but I think the non-conference schedule for us is very challenging."
On facing Louisville head coach Rick Pitino:
"I think that anytime you've got a relationship where you're close to somebody that always makes it difficult in a competitive environment, but at the same time, Louisville's got a great tradition. Obviously, I've got great respect for Coach Pitino, but really I think the major part of it had to do with his brother in law and 9-11 and wanting to be a part and try and help fund-raise with that situation. Certainly, the thing that's positive about it is not only going to Louisville, but getting to come back the following year here in Gainesville and playing. I think people here are always looking to get quality opponents back into the O'Connell Center and we're certainly able to do that. Next year, Miami comes onto the schedule. We play Miami at home and so we've got two teams the following year – Miami and Louisville – and this year we've got Maryland from the ACC."
On the Florida State game in January:
"I'm hoping after this year that we can get back to playing the Friday night before the football game. Obviously, last year we couldn't do it because of scheduling issues. We were in the preseason NIT and couldn't get the dates to play before the football game and this year we've got a situation where we're playing in Arizona the Friday after Thanksgiving and the Florida State football game's that Saturday. I would hope after this year that we could start getting it back to that November time period. But from a date standpoint, that's really the only date that we could work out for it to make sense for both schools. I think what's happened with a lot of these non-exempt events is that you're going to see more teams be able to open up and start their schedule a lot earlier – neutral sites, national TV, whether it's Coaches vs. Cancer or some type of Maui trip – it makes it sometimes difficult to play a non-conference game early in November if it's not an exempted tournament. Both of us are not playing in any non-exempt tournaments next year, so it becomes at least a little easier scheduling-wise. January's a time that we're going to be playing them, but it's almost like adding another SEC team because our league starts and, certainly, Florida State being in the ACC and playing them at home, I would have liked to have had it before a football game because I think that's always been a great, great environment and good for basketball for both schools, but it just hasn't worked that way the last two years and I'm hoping that the following year we can get back to doing that."