Similar to a family taking shelter before a storm, the Florida basketball team was bracing itself Monday for the frenzy of attention that would assuredly come with it’s impending top-5 ranking.
Shortly after UF coach Billy Donovan broke from his press conference, the news broke that the No. 4 Gators had received their highest ranking in either The Associated Press Top 25 or Coaches’ Poll since the national championship season of 2007.
With the hushed whispers around the Florida program steadily growing into a very noticeable and loud buzz, Donovan offered up an interesting analogy when asked how he plans to keep his teams’ collective egos at bay in spite of the growing noise surrounding his Gators.
“When you’re out driving in a country field and there’s nothing to look at and you’re looking at the road and all the sudden, you get into a city and there’s a bunch of sights and sounds and things you start looking at,” Donovan said. “If you’re not paying attention to what’s in front of you, you’re going to run that car right off the road and into a pole. Our guys have to understand that the chatter and stuff around them is on the peripheral.”
Despite the high level that his team has been playing at as of late, Donovan remained quite realistic when presenting the reason for Florida moving up in the polls in the first place.
“If you want to look at the truth of the matter with the rankings right now, is that if every team that is in front of us right now did not lose then we wouldn’t move,” Donovan said. “It’s not like all of a sudden we play a game and based on the naked eye someone says OK, ‘Florida is ranked 10th in the country, but in this game they look like the second best team in the country so this week they are going to be two.’ No one jumps from 10 to two.”
N is for Needs Improvement
Donovan was adamant that his team is far from a finished product, and those who saw the second half of the Mississippi State game last Saturday would certainly agree as the Gators fell victim to several sloppy offensive possessions and a few defensive breakdowns.
“We had three pick-and-roll coverages in the game against Mississippi State, where (Craig) Sword went right down the lane through our defense and took a layup,” Donovan said. “We had some possessions on the on the offensive floor in the second half, although we had a large margin of victory, we turned the ball over. … I still think that we can get better and that is the goal, to try and get better and to get them to see the fact that we can still get better.”
Prepping for the Gamecocks
Florida will have two days of practice before hosting South Carolina on Wednesday, a game that will pit Donovan against new Gamecocks coach Frank Martin.
In the late 90s, Martin was former Gator Udonis Haslem’s coach at Miami Senior High School when Donovan recruited Haslem to Florida.
While South Carolina (12-7, 2-4) hasn’t exactly blown the doors off since staring in-conference competition, Donovan is still weary of the challenge Martin and the Gamecocks present.
“I think every game gets your attention,” Donovan said. “You realize as competitive as this league is, it doesn’t make a difference. Frank has done a great job with his team and getting (Bruce) Ellington back, he probably wasn’t with them because he was with football, but he is playing very well.”
Gators Still Hurting
Donovan said junior forward Casey Prather will definitely miss the South Carolina game with an ankle sprain and is not yet pain-free.
“Even if he was cleared to play on Wednesday, I’m not so sure it would be helpful to him, because he’s been out so long,” Donovan said. I think he’s going to need to get some of that stuff back before we can start putting him in a game.”
Donovan mentioned a few other players who are still “ailing” and have had their practice time cut short. He cited forwards Will Yeguete (knee tendinitis) and Erik Murphy (cracked rib), as well as freshman point guard Braxton Ogbueze (knee) as the banged up players. However, unlike Prather, all are cleared to play.
After scoring a combined 30 points and totaling 12 assists in the Gators’ two games last week, junior guard Scottie Wilbekin was named as the SEC’s Player of the Week on Monday.
Wilbekin didn’t come to UF as Florida’s most highly regarded player, but according to classmate Patric Young, Wilbekin’s explosion onto the scene this season comes as no surprise.
“I always saw when he came here just with like, a hunger,” Young said. “Just really wanted to be great, really wanted to get his chance. … I knew how good he was. I just knew it was a matter of time before it just came out of him and hopefully he can keep this up for the rest of the year.”