The OC: Florida

J. Meric

We continue our out-of-conference preview with Florida, who figures to be among the toughest opponents the Huskies face all season.

UConn fans will be in for a real treat next month when the No. 8 ranked Florida Gators face the Huskies in a highly anticipated Dec. 2 matchup at Gampel Pavilion. Coming off their third-straight Elite Eight appearance, Billy Donovan's Gators appear to have reloaded once again, and they now figure to be one of the Huskies toughest opponents all year.

Last season

29-8 (14-4 SEC), Lost in the Elite Eight to Michigan.

Despite losing Bradley Beal and Irving Walker from the previous year's team, along with the sizable chunk of scoring they provided, Florida never skipped a beat and remained one of the top teams in the country. The Gators jumped out to a 21-3 start, tallying wins over ranked Wisconsin, Marquette, Florida State, Missouri, Ole Miss and Kentucky teams, and eventually claimed the SEC regular season title.

Florida did run into a bit of a skid at the end of the season, losing three of their last six games in the regular season before being upset by Marshall Henderson's Ole Miss team in the SEC Championship game, but that didn't deter the selection committee, who awarded Florida a No. 3 seed.

Once in the tournament, the Gators rebounded by stomping Northwestern State in the Round of 64, dropping Minnesota in the Round of 32 and ending Florida Gulf Coast's Cinderella run in the Sweet Sixteen, but ultimately a return trip to the Final Four remained elusive as the Gators lost to Michigan by a score of 79-59. Michigan would go on to reach the National Championship game, but lost to Louisville.

How they look

This year's Florida team is ranked No. 8 in USA Today's Preseason Coaches poll, and basketball guru Ken Pomeroy has the Gators listed at No. 3 in his preseason rankings, just ahead of UConn at No. 11. Pomeroy also projects that the Gators will win approximately 25 games and finish in a dead heat with Kentucky for the SEC regular season title.

Who will take the court for Florida at any given time is difficult to say at this point. The team has two starters returning from last year, along with five of the team's eight leading scorers, but due to injuries and suspensions we likely won't see Florida reach their true potential until later in the season.

Senior center Patric Young figures to be the team's best returning player from last year, and he will be aided by two transfers who will become eligible to play this year, including Dorian Finney-Smith from Virginia Tech and Damontre Harris from South Carolina. Senior forward Will Yeguete should also make an impact, but he is still recovering from an injury he suffered last season and won't be ready for the start of the season.

Besides Yeguete, Florida also has two other newcomers to their frontcourt who could make an impact later in the season when they become available. Another transfer, Eli Carter from Rutgers, has been cleared to play immediately but is injured and won't be ready to start the year, while new five-star recruit Chris Walker has been declared academically ineligible and won't be reinstated until December at the earliest.

In the backcourt, starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin remains suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules (though he has been partially reinstated and is practicing with the team), which means the highly touted freshman Kasey Hill will likely get the nod early on. Returning guard Michael Frazier figures to be the main option at the other guard spot, at least until Wilbekin returns.

Because Florida is going to be missing so many players at the start of the season, it's probably best that UConn is going to get a shot at them early. Once Florida does have its whole roster available though, oh my God. Billy Donovan is going to have an incredible amount of depth at his disposal, and there's no reason to believe this team can't compete with Kentucky in the SEC.

Projected Starting Lineup:

C - Patric Young (6-foot-9, Sr., 10.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.6 BPG)

F - Dorian Finney-Smith (6-foot-8, So., 6.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, Transferred from Virginia Tech.)

F - Damontre Harris (6-foot-10, Jr., 6.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.3 BPG, Transferred from South Carolina.)

G - Michael Frazier (6-foot-4, So., 5.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.9 APG)

G - Kasey Hill (6-foot-1, Fr., Five-Star recruit out of high school.)

Prediction: Ken Pomeroy predicts that UConn will hand Florida its first loss of the season by a score of 66-65, and I'm inclined to agree. Either way this should be a fantastic game, and the fact that the Huskies will be playing in front of a ravenous home crowd at Gampel Pavilion will only make it better.

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