GAINESVILLE — The Florida men's basketball team will take the floor against Arkansas tonight for the first time as the nation's No. 2 team.
The Gators rose two spots Monday in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. It is Florida's highest AP ranking since being No. 1 on Feb. 12, 2007, the season it won a second straight national title.
Florida (18-2) is 8-0 in SEC play and on a 10-game winning streak. The Gators, who received seven first-place AP votes, are also No. 3 in this week's RPI rankings and No. 1 in the Sagarin basketball rankings. Florida is 5-2 vs. teams with an RPI Top 50, 8-2 vs. RPI Top 100.
The Florida players realize they've become a marked team.
"I think now for sure every team is going to give us their best shot," junior C Patric Young said. "Getting more recognition means that we have to be ready for everybody bringing their best shot at us. Saying that we're this or we're that. None of that stuff really matters. We've just got to take care of what we can control coming in and trying to get better each and every day."
HOME ADVANTAGE: Arkansas is 13-1 at home this season, 4-0 in SEC play. The Gators are 4-4 at Bud Walton Arena under coach Billy Donovan, but Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said Florida will be its biggest challenge to date.
"It's going to be a game where we're going to need everybody to come out and play, and play at a high level, because when you talk about Florida you talk about a team that's pegged to play in the Final Four and win a national championship and I don't see why not," Anderson said. "They have all the weapons, they're playing tremendous defensively. I think that's what gets lost when people talk about Florida and how they shoot the basketball. Billy has them playing at a high level of defense. That's to me what wins you championships."
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Florida's attempts to land junior college QB Tanner McEvoy fell short Monday when the Hillsdale, N.J., native orally committed to Wisconsin. McEvoy, a 6-6, 215-pound dual threat from Arizona Western College who threw for more than 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns, chose Wisconsin over Florida and Oregon. The Gators' two backups behind Jeff Driskel have no collegiate playing experience. But ESPN national director of recruiting Tom Luginbill said the Gators are doing just fine. National signing day is Wednesday.
"I think if there's any coach right now in the SEC that's probably having the best night's sleep over the next two days, I would actually argue that it's Will Muschamp because of what they've been able to accomplish," Luginbill said Monday. "They've been able to sustain verbal commitments for an extended period of time. They've had minimal shifts and minimal changing. We've seen guys like Quinton Powell (who had his scholarship offer pulled), of course, and some other kids, but nothing dramatic. … So hey, this is going to be one of those years where people will look at Florida's class and they will say, 'Wow, they were able to sustain long term,' which is hard to do. It's awful hard to close, but when you can sustain long term that's a very, very difficult task and I think they deserve a lot of credit for that."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.