Alabama will host the Gators in the only regular season match-up between the two schools. With Florida and Kentucky expected to once again be the kings of the league, this should be a great opportunity for Alabama to notch an impressive win. The only problem with that is there haven't been many wins against the Gators in basketball lately. Alabama is 3-15 in the last 18 contests. Anthony Grant has yet to beat his former boss, Billy Donovan. If Bama gets off to a slow start in league play, this game could be crucial in terms of the ultimate direction of the season. At some point, if Alabama is going to take the next step under Anthony Grant, winning home games against the power teams like Florida becomes necessary.
While Florida is expected to be top 25 strong again, a slow start could be in the cards for the Gators. Their non-conference schedule is considered by some to be the toughest in the country (Miami, Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, at Kansas, Florida State and Uconn). This coming on the heels of losing a handful of veterans who led the program to three Elite Eights and one Final Four. While Florida will remain talented as always, that lack of experience may lead to some early struggles. However, one figures that Billy Donovan will have this team figured out by the time conference play begins.
Key players on the perimeter include Kasey Hill (6'1, 182 lbs), expected to be the starting point guard. Hill had his moments last season, but it remains to be seen if he can provide the same level of leadership that Scottie Wilbekin provided. Michael Frazier II (6'4, 194 lbs) returns following a very solid sophomore season in which he averaged 12.3 ppg and made 44% of his 3-pt attempts. Another guy to watch will be Rutgers transfer, Eli Carter. He did not play last season due to a slow recovery from a broken leg, but he led the team in scoring in their exhibition game so he appears to be healthy.
While the front line will miss the experience of guys like Patric Young and Will Yeguete, the team may be more talented this season. The standout should be Chris Walker (6'10, 220 lb), a potential 1st round draft pick. Walker missed much of his freshman season due to eligibility issues. As a result, he really didn't have much of an impact, but he should thrive this season with a full season and an increased role. Also returning is Dorian Finney-Smith (6'8, 218), the 2014 SEC Sixth Man of the Year. He averaged 8.7 ppg, and led the team in rebounding at 6.6 per game. His role and numbers should increase this season.
The newcomers to the team include a pair of transfers and the usual 4-5 star recruits Donovan brings in every season. Jon Horford (6'10, 245 lb) is a graduate transfer from Michigan. His brother is Al Horford, the former Gator star on those back-to-back national championship teams. Jon was lost in the mix at Michigan after a series of injuries, but he should give this Florida team help on defense and rebounding the ball. The other transfer also has family roots in the Florida program. Alex Murphy (6'8, 225 lb) - a transfer from Duke - is the younger brother of former Florida star, Erik Murphy. Like his brother, he's more of a pick-and-pop player than the traditional post player, but he's hoping for a fresh start in Gainesville after, like Horford, being lost in the mix at Duke. Donovan signed a 3-man class, but only two will play this year after 4 star, Brandone Francis did not qualify. The other two recruits are Chris Chiozza (6'0, 160), a 4 star recruit, and Devin Robinson (6'8, 178), a 5 star recruit who could be a potential impact player in year one.
There certainly appear to be some forthcoming growing pains with this group, but the talent and coaching is there to ultimately keep Florida near the top of the SEC.