Gainesville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The 10th-ranked Florida Gators open the 2013-14 campaign on their home floor on Friday night, as they welcome the North Florida Ospreys to the O'Connell Center.
The Ospreys advanced all the way to the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championship game in 2011-12, but they experienced a setback last season, finishing just 13-19 and 8-10 in the league with a quarterfinal-round loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the conference tournament (73-63). Head coach Matthew Driscoll has gone just 83-149 in eight seasons at the helm for UNF.
Under the tutelage of Billy Donovan for the past 17 seasons, the Gators have consistently been one of the nation's top teams, and the story was much of the same during the 2012-13 campaign. They finished the season 29-8, and at 14-4 in the SEC, they won the regular-season title for the fifth time under Donovan, and while they lost to Ole Miss in the conference tournament championship game (66-63), they regained their momentum in the NCAA Tournament with their third straight Elite Eight appearance.
Florida has beaten UNF in all three previous meetings, including an 86-40 romp in November of 2006.
North Florida will have difficulty improving upon a disappointing campaign after the loss of eight players, including First Team All-Conference guard Parker Smith (16.3 ppg). Without Smith, Travis Wallace (14.2 ppg) should be able to shoulder most of the scoring load thanks to his outstanding .577 field goal percentage. Beau Beech (7.9 ppg) and Charles McRoy (6.1 ppg) are also accustomed to regular minutes. Of the eight newcomers, junior college transfer Jalen Nesbitt is expected to have the biggest impact early on after averaging 14.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game at Spartanburg Methodist College in 2012-13.
While Florida lost its top three scorers (Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy, Kenny Boynton) after last season, the cupboard is far from empty. Patric Young (10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg) and Will Yeguete (5.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) are solid frontcourt performers, while Scottie Wilbekin (9.1 ppg) is a valued floor general, dishing out 5.0 assists per game a season ago. Also expected to play pivotal roles are a pair of five-star recruits in point guard Kasey Hill (6- foot, 170 pounds) and forward Chris Walker (6-foot-10, 195 pounds), as well as transfer Eli Carter, who has been cleared to play this season after averaging 14.9 points per game in his final season at Rutgers.