November 14, 2008

Five questions: Basketball season preview

Florida's streak of nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances ended with a late-season meltdown last year. The Gators, who lost all five starters and their top reserve from back-to-back national championship teams, went 3-8 from the start of February through the SEC Tournament, relegating them to the NIT.

The team was supposed to return intact, but sophomore center Marreese Speights bolted for the NBA, where he was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers. Then guard Jai Lucas, who started 35 games as a freshman without making a huge impact, told coach Billy Donovan he was transferring after Florida's first exhibition game.

Minus two starters, the Gators are anything but a sure thing and a bit of a mystery heading into Friday's season opener against Toledo at the O'Connell Center. Here's Guerry Smith's take on five key questions as Florida tries to reclaim its spot at or near the top of the SEC.

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