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Colleges

Donovan, Gators downplay No. 1 AP, USA Today rankings


Published:   |   Updated: February 24, 2014 at 01:12 PM

GAINESVILLE - Florida is ranked No. 1 in both the USA Today coaches poll with 24 first-place votes and the AP writers voting, with 47 first-place ballots, for the first time since Feb. 12, 2007 and just the 11th time during the regular season in school history. But Gators coach Billy Donovan wasn't getting worked up about it on Monday.

The Gators (25-2 overall, 14-0 in SEC play) are off to the best overall and conference start in school history and also own a program-record 19-game winning streak.

"I don't think (it means) a whole lot,'' Donovan said. "I think rankings are a revolving door. Every week they change. When teams lose in front of you and you win you move up. Certainly that's probably a good conversational piece, having that. But that really means nothing to do with what we are trying to do. I think during course of the season our guys never really had a goal of, 'Hey let's try to be No. 1 in the country.'

"It really doesn't mean anything right now. We don't start any games with a lead, there's nothing given to us there. It's just something people vote on, people have their opinion on. ... For us the most important thing right now is our next game.''

Florida, which can lock up at least a share of the SEC title with a win, visits Vanderbilt (15-11, 7-7) at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN. The Gators won five of the last six in the series but lost the last meeting in Nashville in 2012.

Commodores coach Kevin Stallings certainly doesn't argue with the Gators' spot in the polls.

"They are good at everything,'' he said. "They are good at offense, they're good at rebounding, they're experienced, they're tough and you can tell they have great leadership. There's absolutely nothing that would make them not good. They have great guard play, they have tough, physical guys up front, they have depth.

"I think everybody knows that Billy is a great coach, but he's done a phenomenal job with their team. People forget that they had all kinds of adversity at the beginning of the season with injuries and suspensions and guys out, things like that. They found ways to win anyway. It's just an unbelievable job he's done with that team.''

Wichita State is No. 2 in both polls.

Defense has been the Gators' drawing card - ranked eighth nationally while allowing 58.7 points a contest.

"You can tell they hold each other accountable,'' Stallings said. "The name on the front of their jersey is the only thing that they are playing for. Nobody is playing for the name on the back of their jersey. They share the ball, they play for each other on defense as well as any team that I've seen in the 15 years I've been in the league.

"It's one thing to share and be unselfish on offense, which is very obvious because the ball is involved. They're very unselfish on defense how they cover for each other and how they play for each other. You just see their seniors all the time getting everybody together, 'Hey we need a stop,' you can see it. It's a real delightful thing to see. I think that's what all our coaches aspire for teams to be like. It's very inspiring to see their team play and watch them on film because the game is being played on both ends exactly the way you'd want to coach it.''

Stallings may want to throw love in the Gators' direction, but it doesn't sound like they are biting. Being No. 1 isn't a priority right now.

"There's still a process every day,'' said senior forward Will Yeguete, a graduate of Florida Air Academy. "We trust the coach and coach has done a really good job to make sure we stay focused and not worry about our ranking right now.''

Sophomore guard Michael Frazier, nursing a wrist injury but expected to play Tuesday, doesn't even claim to have any idea where Florida should be rated.

"That's not really for me to say because I don't know how good every other team in the country is,'' he said. "All I know is that we have a lot of things we can get better at and we need to get better. The only thing that matters is us staying in love with the grind and falling in love with the process of getting better every day.''

Florida freshman backup point guard Kasey Hill has a groin injury but has shown some strides.

"He's getting better,'' Donovan said. "It's probably going to be a decision that's going to be made (on game day) if he's going to be available. My guess right now, I don't think he will play.''

Senior forward Casey Prather has developed some tendinitis in his knees, as well, and did not practice on Sunday.

While Donovan isn't putting a ton of weight in being No. 1, he did call it "an honor.''

"I'm not dismissing that,'' he said. "I'm not dismissing the polls, I'm not dismissing any of that stuff. But I think what happens is sometimes you can get focused on that and what happens is now everything that you do is attached to a ranking. ... It's that ranking that gets dragged with your team. My point is, for our guys, that means nothing. In reality, in terms of us preparing, us getting ready to play and us doing what we need to do in playing against Vanderbilt.

"It's a very, very nice honor. It's kind of like individual awards. They're very, very nice, but you're playing a team sport, trying to win competitively. And although they're nice, I don't think that like our guys are playing for individual accolades or awards and I don't think our guys are playing for necessarily rankings. I think our guys are in the process of competing in a very, very tough SEC race right now. Then the SEC Tournament will come and postseason play will come.

"So those things to me, right now, when a guy like Scottie Wilbekin gets the SEC Player of the Week, that's a nice accomplishment, nice award, but I don't think Scottie went into the year saying 'I want to be the SEC Player of the Week for five weeks.' I just don't think they do that.''

Donovan said there are lot of teams that could claim to be the nation's best.

"I think on any given night, in between the lights, there's a lot of teams that can be No. 1 in the country. On any given night, anybody could play to that level,'' he said. "I'm sure there's times Michigan State has looked like the No. 1 team. I'm sure there's been nights where Arizona, being No. 1, looked like No. 1 or Wichita State or Michigan. There's been plenty of teams that could have looked like 'this is the best team in the country.'

"Syracuse is the best team in the country. Duke just ended up beating Syracuse this past week, and geez they looked like the No. 1 team in the country. A lot of teams can look that way, but to me, it's always about the process of continuing to get better and staying locked in on what you actually have control over. We don't have control over rankings. Somebody could very easily say, 'You know what, Florida is not No. 1 in the country. It's Wichita State.' That's great. We've still got to get prepared for Vanderbilt.''

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