|Two-time defending national champs back in AP poll at No. 20|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 29 January 2008 02:42|
After winning seven of their last eight games, including an 86-64 victory over then-No. 14 Vanderbilt, the Gators showed up at No. 20 in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll.
Florida (18-3, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) may have to keep winning on the road to stay there.
``If we want to be a good team and a good program, we're going to be ranked,'' coach Billy Donovan said. ``Whether it's this week, next week or down the road, we want to be ranked. That's a recognition that you've got a good team. We've got to be able to handle those expectations and we haven't had the opportunity to deal with that a whole lot.''
The Gators, who replaced all five starters and their top six scorers from last season, spent one week in the poll in November after a 4-0 start.
But a 14-point loss to rival Florida State knocked them from the rankings and left some questioning how the two-time defending national champions would fare with so many freshmen and sophomores playing key roles.
``I don't even know if we were deserving when we were in the top 25 for one week,'' Donovan said. ``We probably shouldn't have even been there.''
Donovan isn't sure his team deserves to be there now, either, despite beating Alabama and South Carolina on the road and knocking off Auburn, Kentucky and Vandy at home. Florida's only conference loss was an 89-87 setback at Mississippi.
Nonetheless, Donovan believes the ranking will give his players another chance to better handle the hype and attention that come with it.
``This whole thing's a process,'' he said. ``It's a long way from being over. We're not even at the halfway point of our league. I've talked to our guys a lot since the league started about having a level of humility. We need to have a level of humbleness and an eagerness to want to get better and improve, and our guys are starting to see that and understand that.
``One of the most difficult things for a young basketball team to handle is success. We're not that good that we can just think we can show up in practice, show up in games, and just play hard and win.''
The Gators have played considerably better in recent weeks.
Center Marreese Speights and forward Dan Werner have started playing tough post defense. Guards Jai Lucas and Walter Hodge have proven to be legitimate 3-point shooting threats. And freshman swingman Nick Calathes has become the go-to guy.
Together, they make the Gators difficult to stop. Florida also has developed into a defensive nuisance with its pressing, trapping style.
``They have surprised me,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said Monday. ``They lost more than anybody in the league and they've obviously rebuilt it quickly. Their guys play with a lot of confidence and play great together. They're an exceptional passing team. They're exceeding a lot of people's expectations and I'm one that's surprised they've had this much success this quickly.''
The Gators, who have won two of three SEC road games, play at Arkansas on Saturday and then at No. 7 Tennessee on Feb. 5.
Donovan hopes the short layoff won't affect his team's rhythm or its outlook.
``What's the difference of who we are as people 24 hours ago to who we are now?'' Donovan said. ``Sometimes this stuff around you can feed the ego and you can lose perspective of what reality is. The reality of it is bracketology, being ranked, what perception is of what people think, it doesn't make a difference going into tomorrow. It's all about how we handle what's happened to us.''