GAINESVILLE — The Florida men's basketball team has played at home just three times in the past 61 days, and a lot has changed in that time — most notably victories and rankings. The Gators (16-2, 6-0) are on an eight-game winning streak and on Monday rose to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll.
It is Florida's highest regular-season ranking since No. 3 on March 12, 2007. The Gators went on to win their second straight national championship that season. Florida was ranked No. 5 this season before a 65-64 loss to then-No. 8 Arizona, which is one of the many reasons the Gators said they won't get caught up in the hype surrounding their ascension into the nation's Top 5.
"Pretty much try not to worry about it," senior G Kenny Boynton said when asked how the Gators will handle the ranking. "The rankings change every week as we see. We just got to try to keep trying to play the right way as we've been playing."
The problem with keeping things in perspective for the Gators is that things have been so out of whack in their SEC games. Florida has outscored its six SEC opponents by an average of 26.5 points, and three times the margin has been more than 30. But the Gators say they understand there's a lot of basketball left to be played, and they are counting on coach Billy Donovan to make sure they don't let the growing national attention become a distraction.
"Well, I know Coach Donovan's going to humble us," junior C Patric Young said. "He's going to find something to make sure we don't get too lifted up on this attention that we're getting now. We want to be recognized as a good team, but we want to make it all the way. We want to win it all. Then we'll finally be satisfied with what we've got."
NO MORE CHALLENGE: With the impending changes to the Big East coinciding with the end of the current contract, the SEC/Big East basketball challenge is ending. The collaboration was supposed to help the SEC boost its RPI by playing tougher teams outside of the conference, but of the 40 games played in the series, only seven involved two ranked teams, including Florida-Syracuse in 2009 and 2011.
WILBEKIN HONORED: Junior G Scottie Wilbekin was named SEC player of the week. Wilbekin averaged 15 points, six assists and two rebounds in wins at Georgia and Mississippi State. At Georgia, Wilbekin had a team-high 17 points, matching a career best, and shot 7-of-9 from the field. Against Mississippi State, he had his third straight game scoring in double figures, finishing with 13, and was one assist shy of his second career double double. This marks the second straight week that Wilbekin has recorded at least nine assists in a game.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I almost liken it to driving a car. You go out and drive in a country field and there's nothing to look at. You're looking at the road, then all of a sudden, you get into the city and there's a bunch of sights and sounds and things you start looking at. You're not paying attention to what's in front of you. You drive the car right off the road into a pole. … I think it's very, very easy when there's distractions around you, and things around you, to take your eyes off the road. We can't do that, and our guys have got to understand that." — Donovan on the Gators handling success.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @TBTimes_Gators.