Pick a college basketball analyst or coach out of a lineup and ask them where they would rank the Florida Gators through the first seven games of the 2012-13 season. If recent columns and poll votes are to be believed, those involved with the game across the country almost unanimously believe that Florida is one of the top teams on the nation based on what it has done so far this campaign.
For head coach Billy Donovan, who is notoriously dismissive of preseason polls, the Gators are just like any other team in the nation. Florida is learning to play together and trying to grow each week in an effort to end the season on the top of the mountain.
“We’ve played seven basketball games. For me to sit there and say we’re one of the five best teams in the country, I’m not so sure I agree with that,” he said on Wednesday.
“I’m not so sure that, at the end of the year, we can’t be. But right now, to say through seven games that we are [a top-five team], I’d be hard-pressed to say just because we haven’t played enough games.”
Donovan is right in some ways. The Gators have only played one true road game and have only faced a single opponent that was ranked when the game tipped off.
What Florida has done to impress the country as a whole is dominate every team it has faced. The Gators are ranked second nationally in scoring defense (48.3 points per game allowed) and third nationally in scoring margin, defeating opponents by an average of 25.3 points per game.
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“Because of the margin of victory in some of these games, we’ve gained some attention because of that. I’m not so sure, and I said this after several games, that we’re that many points better than the teams that we’ve played against,” Donovan said.
“But when you do play Wisconsin, you play Marquette, you play Florida State and even Middle Tennessee State … when you see the margin of victory right now, immediately people start to give you attention based on the margin of victory.
“I’m not so sure that has anything to do with going into this game against Arizona. For me right now, the attention is based on everything that we have done in the past, but we’re still kind of moving forward here as a team. I still think we can get a lot better on both ends of the floor.”
The Arizona Wildcats stand as Florida’s toughest test so far. Arizona ranked eighth nationally and also sports a 7-0 record with double-digit victories in five games.
Donovan is impressed with what he has seen on tape from the Wildcats and thinks they are a team built to win big games, especially at home against major competition.
“A very complete team. When you look at teams, you look at teams that have answers. They rebound the ball well. They shoot the ball very well. They have a post presence up front. They defend very well. When you go against good teams, there’s a lot of different ways good teams can win games. … Arizona can do all those things,” he said.
“Our guys understand that Arizona is a terrific team, and I think a much better team than last year and that team obviously came in here and really had every opportunity to win the game.”
The Gators and Wildcats dueled last season, each winning a half and winding up tied at 66 at the end of regulation. Florida pulled away in overtime and took the home victory thanks to a career-high 25 points from now-junior center Patric Young.
UF is hoping it will not need heroics like that to take down UA this time around.
“It’s an important game, obviously, two good teams. It’s a test on the road. I just think we have to approach it as another game, try to come out, focus on what coach gives us as a game plan and try to do what he says,” senior forward Erik Murphy said.
And while the coaching staff and most players understand that the Gators’ current top-five ranking is not that important this early in the season, junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin admitted that he is still motivated to prove that UF belongs in the conversation for best team in the country.
“We’re excited about this game, but at the same time, it’s just another game. We’re excited to prove ourselves again. We just want to prove that we’re a legit team and we deserve to be in the top five. We just want to come out and win every game,” he said.
Should Florida pick up a big road victory against a top team and do so once again in impressive fashion, there should be no denying that the Gators are legitimate contenders this season.