Florida is ranked in the top five for the first time since 2007, when the Gators won their second straight national title, for good reason. They might be the best team in the country.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell. Even though the Gators extended their winning streak to nine games and their overall record to 17-2, the 75-36 shellacking of South Carolina was one of the least interesting games of the season.
The Gators could have won this one on cruise control, not because they played flawlessly, far from it. Billy Donovan’s normally disciplined squad had nine turnovers in the first half and still led by 23. No, the Gators dominated because the Gamecocks, like much of the SEC, aren’t very good.
How bad was it?
South Carolina scored 10 points in the first half, and it would have been eight had the Gamecocks not hit two free throws in the last minute.
They didn’t get much better in the second period. Forward Michael Carrera led all Gamecocks with 13 points and nine rebounds. His next most effective teammate was Bruce Ellington, who scored seven. The rest of the South Carolina starters had eight points among them.
Granted, this Gators team is as a tough a defensive squad as Donovan has ever put on the court, but they aren’t the Miami Heat. This one was like backyard ball with the Gators guards having their way. Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario both scored 15. Michael Frazier added 12, and Scottie Wilbekin had eight, with the two big men, Erik Murphy and Patric Young, adding eight apiece.
As bad as it was, it could have been worse, which isn’t a good thing for the Gators. Unless Kentucky gets its act together, Florida appears to be on its way to breezing through the conference schedule and perhaps locking up a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
That is where things will get tricky. The Gators haven’t been tested at their best, and they aren’t likely to be in the next three games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Mississippi State. Not until the Wildcats come to Gainesville on Feb. 12 will Donovan’s defense be pushed.
The last thing a great team wants is to face their first tough game in the second round of the tournament.
Donovan understands that. He also understands that he needs to keep his guys focused on the next opponent, no matter how overmatched it might be.
“We’ve got to drive our car with two hands on the wheel inside the lane and looking at what’s in front,” Donovan said earlier in the week.
Unfortunately, they’re driving in a different gear from the rest of the SEC right now. And before the tournament, there is a good chance they will lap the field.