Ignoring the hype

Florida center Patric Young

The Gators took their No. 8 ranking on the road last and plowed through two of the three teams at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference standings. While Florida was taking care of its business, other top-eight teams weren't. Because of that, the Gators were stamped as the No. 4 team in the country on Monday, the highest ranking since Florida's second national championship in 2006-07.

The challenge is to ignore it.

The accolades continue to be thrown at Florida for its 16-2 record and 6-0 record to start conference play for the third time in school history. The Gators have won their six conference games by an average of 26.5 points. Players insist that winning doesn't get boring, and senior guard Kenny Boynton even said he thinks it's possible to continue winning by those margins if the Gators stay focused.

But that's the toughest part.

"I almost liken it to driving a car," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "You go out and drive in a country field and there's nothing to look at. You're looking at the road. Then all of a sudden, you get into the city and there's a bunch of sights and sounds and things you start looking at. You're not paying attention to what's in front of you.

"You drive the car right off the road into a pole."

Donovan has spent the weeks continuing to convince his team that they're a work in progress and have plenty of room to improve. The players have bought in, blocked it out and only showed signs of a letdown once during SEC play—the early parts of last Wednesday's game at Georgia.

It's the benefit of a veteran team. With the core from the last two seasons returning after back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, they know the expectations. They know what it takes to get there. And it doesn't have anything to do with being mesmerized by in season season accomplishments.

"It's nice to be recognized for the hard work we've been putting in," Florida center Patric Young said. "It lets us know that we're doing the right thing so far, that we need to keep improving. No championship's been won in January or February, so hopefully we can keep this thing going and have a one seed going into the tournament but that's down the road and later on. We're going to worry about this game coming Wednesday."

Donovan has kept his team focused with a constant message. The team hasn't had much to do with moving up the polls. Sure, they've been blowing teams out routinely, but that has been happening for a while. The Gators are on an eight-game winning streak since their loss to Kansas State in Kansas City, and the closest margin of victory was 17 points, against Air Force and Georgia.

That hasn't changed. What has changed is the teams ahead of Florida in the polls. Their recent struggles are the reasons the Gators are moving up the polls and getting more national attention.

"The truth of the matter with the rankings right now is if every team in front of us did not lose, we wouldn't move," Donovan said. "It's not like all of the sudden where you play a game and based on the naked eye someone says, ‘OK Florida is ranked 10th in the country, but you know what, 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.

"Right now, this time of year, anyone that jumps up in the polls and or makes a move in the polls has everything to do with teams in front of them losing."

The Gators are trying to keep from being one of those teams. Now with a lofty No. 4 ranking, it would be easy for the Gators to let their guard down and coast, especially with South Carolina coming to Gainesville with a 12-7 record and 2-4 record in conference play. Donovan wants his team to continuing driving the "car with two hands on the wheel, inside the lane and looking at what's in front."

To do that, the Gators will focus on improvement. Donovan brushed off questions about struggling to find areas for his team to improve and immediately started to point out his team's struggles with pick-and-roll defense and turnovers after the Gators had 14 at Mississippi State.

"No team's perfect," Donovan said. "Everybody's got flaws, everybody's got things they've got to work at. I think the biggest mistake you can make as a player or as a coach or inside your team is to say, 'OK, we're playing really, really good basketball, we're great, we're OK, everything's going to be fine.'

"Really, all the stuff you're talking about is in the past. What about today? We don't want to slip and go backwards. They've worked hard to get to the point now. Can you keep working hard to continue to grow and develop?"

That's the mantra the Gators are taking on as they head into just the fourth week of SEC play. The NCAA Tournament projections list Florida as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, and while that's the goal, it's still a long way from being something the team needs to focus on.

"I know Coach Donovan's going to humble us," Young said. "He's going to find something to make sure we don't get too lifted up on this attention that we're getting now. We want to be great and be recognized as a good team, but we want to make it all the way. We want to win it all. Then we'll finally be satisfied with what we've got."

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