Florida on path to be best in SEC

They looked like what they are: the best team in the SEC.

When Florida demolished Georgia, 64-47, at Stegeman Coliseum Wednesday night, the Gators put an emphatic exclamation point on a season with only two losses and 15 wins. Billy Donovan’s guys moved to 5-0 in the conference and looked almost unstoppable.

In a seven-day stretch, they swept Georgia for the season and beat Missouri, considered to be among the elite SEC teams, handily.

The Georgia win on Wednesday was particularly telling. Trailing by three at the half, Florida put the ball in the hands of star Scottie Wilbekin who led the Gators on a 24-4 run at the start of the second period. Wilbekin led all scoring with 17 points, followed by Kenny Boynton with 14.

It was a dominating performance punctuated by eight three-pointers and a stifling defense that allowed the Gators to outscore the Bulldogs 40-20 in the second half.

It was also the kind of performance that could set the Gators on a path to a conference title.

Yes, it’s early; it’s not even February.

Yes, there are 13 more conference games on the schedule.

Yes, the Gators could collapse and lose half their remaining games and nobody will be discussing them at all come tournament selection time.

But none of that is likely. Donovan puts seven men on the floor who are quicker and better outside shooters than Kentucky, and they play stronger defense than Missouri and Vanderbilt.

Of course, anything can happen, and no one would be surprised if Florida dropped another game, maybe two. But the Gators’ talent and cohesion make them the clear favorites coming into the home stretch.

The question is: Does anyone care?

The Gator Nation is still stinging from the Sugar Bowl, and rightfully so. Lackluster fan support didn’t cause Florida’s football team to lose to Louisville, but it didn’t help. The normally rabid Gators fans couldn’t chomp their way out of a New Orleans bakery during their BCS bowl week. Now, fans have a chance to rally behind a basketball team that could go deep into the tournament, and perhaps pull some upsets and get to another Final Four.

But will they?

The joke in the SEC is that outside of Kentucky, basketball season is a way to fill time between bowl games and spring football practice. But when the fans and the football team fail, will anyone fill the void by supporting the only active coach on the Florida campus with two national championships?

That answer will come in the next few weeks.

Either way, the fact remains: Florida has a very good basketball team, whether its fans know and care about it or not.