Gators Open Basketball Season

The Florida Gators will open their 13th season under the direction of Billy Donovan Friday night when the Gators host Toledo in an event called the CBE Classic. The "tournament" has the Gators facing Bradley on Sunday before heading to Kansas City a week later to take on Syracuse and either Kansas or Washington.

The Gators are coming off the kind of down year most programs would love to have. They were 24-12 a year ago and made it to the semi-finals of the NIT. That ended a string of nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the Gators, and was doubly frustrating because it came on the years of back to back NCAA Titles.

The Gators returned all but one player, Marreese Speights (14.5/8.1) from that team but another, Jai Lucas (8.5) left the team after the first exhibition game. That leaves the Gators a little thin in the backcourt. Still, the Gators return 66 percent of their scoring and 68 percent of their rebounding.

Florida will be led by sophomore do-everything guard Nick Calathes who led the Gators in scoring (15.3) and assists (6.1) a year ago. The Gators also welcome back Walter Hodge (10.4), Dan Werner (9.1/6.4), Chandler Parsons (8.1/4.0) and Alex Tyus (4.3/2.6). Major improvement from Parsons and Tyus will be needed to offset the loss of Speights' productivity.

As for Toledo, the Rockets are coming off an 11-19 season and made a coaching change, bringing in former Notre Dame assistant Gene Cross. They return the leading scorer in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), Tyron Kent (16.9/3.8) along with two other talented wing players in Jonathan Amos (12.1/5.0) and Ridley Johnson (8.9/3.6). The big question is what kind of play will they get from the frontcourt with all new players?

Billy Donovan shares his thoughts on his opening night opponent.

BD: "Rob (Lanier) worked with Gene Cross when they were at Virginia and has a lot of respect for him. They're going to run a lot of motion. They have three outstanding guards that are returning players that have all basically averaged double figure points. They are a team that is very athletic on the perimeter. We'll have to deal with the motion, some set plays and probably changing defenses from man to man and match up zone. The one thing I always respect about the MAC is that those kids are going to come in here with a lot of confidence because they are older and they've played against a lot of good competition."

Florida has never lost an opener under Donovan, posting 12 straight wins. The closest opening game came in Donovan's second year when the Gators barely beat Nichols State 66-63. They have never played Toledo and own a 2-2 record against MAC schools, most recently beating Ohio 67-62 in the 2005 NCAA Tournament.

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