UF Hoops Still Lacking Strong Schedule

Florida basketball has released its 2008-09 basketball schedule, and while the Gators will face a more significant test than last year's pillow soft opening months there are still plenty of sure wins in the non-SEC slate.

The question is whether, if they wind up on the NCAA tournament bubble again, Florida's RPI will be dragged down by their schedule a second time. Last year the Gators played the 87th ranked schedule thanks to the out of conference portion ranking 271 out of 341.

The biggest difference between this year's schedule and the previous one is the quality of the early season tournament Florida will play in. Last season's event saw the Gators play four home games against a series of dreadful teams, with Big East bottom feeder Rutgers the best of the bunch. This year Florida will play in the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic, giving them two home games and then a trip to Kansas City for two more. It's expected they will play those games against Syracuse first and then either defending national champs Kansas or Washington the next day. The CBE Classic field will be made official next month.

Florida has had little success in arranging quality out of conference games at the O'Connell Center the past few years, and this schedule is no exception. A nationally televised January 3 game against N.C. State is the only home game with a squad from a power conference besides the SEC. Matchups with perpetually underachieving FSU in Tallahassee and a typically quality Winthrop team in Sunrise are the only other out of conference games of note. While Florida will not leave the state in December, they will leave the O'Connell Center plenty. Besides those FSU and Winthrop games, the Gators will face Missouri - Kansas City in Orlando and UCF in Jacksonville.

If Florida can get off to a strong start in conference play, they should be in good shape to return to the NCAA tournament. The Gators will close with four of their final six at home including what's become the traditional season ender with Kentucky. Thanks to the SEC Tournament being in Tampa this year, Florida will only have to leave the state twice after Valentine's Day. One particularly challenging game should be the visit to Knoxville January 31, which will apparently be an ESPN College Basketball Gameday event.

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