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Thursday, November 30, 2023

I hate to break it to you Gators fans, but this basketball season is going to be just like football, so brace yourselves now.

Despite the fact that the football team lists just 20 upperclassmen on its roster, fans still expected a BCS bowl or even another shot at the national title this year.

Now that basketball season is about to begin, maybe you're still in the honeymoon phase of UF's back-to-back hoops championship seasons.

But the minute these Gators step onto the court tonight for their first exhibition game, you're going to realize that this season is definitely a rebuilding year.

A big one. Seven of UF's 11 players are freshmen.

The '04s are gone. Chris Richard and Lee Humphrey - gone too. If UF has enough highlights of current players to make a montage for those flashy video screens, I'm going to be seriously impressed.

Even UF's returning players - save for maybe Walter Hodge - are going to struggle at first.

Everyone has high expectations for sophomore Marreese Speights after he proved he could help out in quick bursts off the bench last year.

But the Gators' lone big man has only played basketball since his sophomore year of high school, so he's still learning the fundamentals, especially when it comes to defense.

Now, the season won't be a total bust. After all, you've got two McDonald's All-Americans to watch, and from what I can tell, past super-sized stars have worked out well for the Gators.

Corey Brewer, David Lee, Mike Miller, Donnell Harvey and Brett Nelson were all on the list.

But Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas are still freshmen. They need time to develop into great players.

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At first, it's going to seem like I'm wrong. I have a feeling the Gators are going to get off to a great start, but then again so would the Washington Generals (the Harlem Globetrotters' whipping boys) if they had the schedule UF does.

Until a Dec. 23 matchup at Ohio State, 10 of UF's first 12 games are in the comfy confines of the O'Connell Center. One game is in Jacksonville and the other is in Tampa, which might as well be home games.

Plus, out of those same 12 games, 11 are gimme wins. Florida State seems to be UF's only real competition.

Sure Al Thornton is gone, but the Seminoles boast a new 7-foot-1 center and return experienced guards Toney Douglas and Isaiah Swann.

The Gators won't truly be tested until they head to Columbus in December, but even the Buckeyes took a hit with the losses of Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. to the NBA.

So while UF is riding high on thrilling victories over North Dakota State and North Carolina Central University, don't get too confident Gators fans.

The Southeastern Conference will pose enough of a challenge this season. Chris Lofton returns to Tennessee, Patrick Beverley is back for Arkansas and Shan Foster is in for another year at Vanderbilt.

When this season doesn't quite live up to expectations, remember the words of late Marquette coach Al McGuire - The best thing about freshmen is that next year they're sophomores.

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