Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan is doing his best to downplay the Gators’ ascension to No. 1 on the Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 polls on Monday, the first time they have been on top since Feb. 12, 2007.
The concern that history might repeat itself could have played a part in Donovan saying that Florida’s ranking “doesn’t mean anything.”
After all, Vanderbilt beat the Gators 83-70 in Nashville less than a week after their last turn at the top and UF is headed back to Memorial Gym on Tuesday to face the Commodores (15-11, 7-7) for the only time in the regular season.
“Our whole thing is Vanderbilt right now,” Donovan said during a news conference on Monday. “We don’t have control over the rankings. We still have to get prepared to play Vanderbilt, practice and do the things we do.”
Donovan was emphatic in pointing out that a high ranking is a compliment, but irrelevant in a sport that has a national championship tournament.
“Any time that happens it’s an honor,” he said. “I’m not dismissing any of that stuff. But it means nothing in reality, in terms of us preparing and getting ready to play against Vanderbilt. [Rankings] are like individual awards. They’re very nice, but our guys are not playing for individual awards and not playing for rankings.”
The Florida players seem to have gotten the message.
“Our lives haven’t changed,” said forward Will Yeugete. “We understand that it doesn’t matter.”
The Gators received 47 of the 65 first-place votes in the AP poll, and 24-of-32 on the USA Today coaches poll. Florida took advantage of losses by former No. 1 Syracuse to Boston College and Duke, and defeated Auburn 71-66 on Feb. 18 and Mississippi 75-71 on Feb. 22, extending their winning streak to 19 games in a row. UF rallied from halftime ties in each game.
Syracuse fell to fourth in the AP poll and fifth in the coaches poll. Wichita State (29-0) is second to Florida in both rankings and Arizona (25-2) is third in both.
Donovan said more pressing matters facing the team — trying to win their next game at a venue in which UF is 7-9 in his era as coach, and working to shore up some problem areas before March Madness arrives — aren’t solved with a No. 1 ranking.
“To be honest, the only reason we garnered No. 1 is the teams in front of us losing,” he said. “To get that ranking has nothing to do with what you do. It has to do with what other people do. It’s not a goal for us. It’s just not.”
Donovan may want to change the subject but Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, whose team is one of seven in the SEC tied for fourth at 7-7, made sure to tag the Gators with that distinction during his turn on the coaches teleconference.
The better to motivate his team and fans, perhaps?
“The No. 1 team in the county is coming in here — that should be exciting,” he said.
“They’re good at everything. They’re good at defense. They’re good at offense. They’re good at rebounding. They’re experienced and tough and you can tell they have great leadership.”
Injuries have cut Vanderbilt down to seven scholarship players. But the Commodores have won two of their last three games, led by 6-9 senior forward Rod Odom and a defense that is second in the SEC against the 3-point shot (.299).
Florida made a season-high of 12 3-pointers against Ole Miss.
This is the 11th week in school history that the Gators have been ranked first by the Associated Press voters. Florida has a 15-5 record overall as the No. 1 team.
UF reached the top for the first time in school history on Feb. 3, 2003. It lasted one day before losing to Kentucky 70-55.
The Gators returned to No. 1 the following season, on Dec. 8, 2003, but again it didn’t last one game. UF lost to Maryland 69-68 in overtime on Dec. 10.
The Gators were the preseason No. 1 in 2006 and held that spot for three weeks before an 82-80 loss to Kansas. Florida regained the top spot later that season and held it for five weeks before the loss to Vanderbilt.
Garry Smits: (904) 359-4362