GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Winning six games by an average of 25.4 points to open the season is one way to get attention. Defeating a team you faced in the Sweet 16 a year ago by 33 points is another way.
The Gators have done both, their 6-0 start good enough to climb to No. 6 in the latest AP Top 25 and to No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. That is Florida’s highest ranking in the polls since finishing third in the final regular-season rankings in 2006-07, a season that ended with the Gators winning their second consecutive national title.
With a sound win over then No. 22-ranked Wisconsin already in hand, Florida’s 82-49 win over Marquette on Thursday opened even more eyes.
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Florida scrapped out a 10-point win against a more talented Golden Eagles team than they faced last week when the teams met nine months ago in Phoenix. Still, any 33-point win over a Buzz Williams-coached team is sure to register on the buzz meter.
As the Gators prepare to travel to Tallahassee and face Florida State on Wednesday night, Florida coach Billy Donovan would like to turn the buzz meter off.
He’s been there and done that, but this year’s team has not.
“The biggest thing I’ve tried to do since the Marquette game is to get them to understand that every day you have an opportunity to move forward and get better,’’ Donovan said. “I do think in life that the hardest thing to be able to handle is success. We’ve talked a lot about being able to handle that.”
People expected the Gators to be good. They were ranked 10th in both preseason polls despite losing senior guard Erving Walker and one-and-done freshman Bradley Beal. Still, it’s doubtful many expected Florida to beat Wisconsin and Marquette by a combined 51 points.
Donovan has been around long enough to know what comes next.
“You win a game by that margin, you come back to practice the next day and it ends up being a mindset of ‘we’ve got this all figured out; we know what we’re doing.’ And that’s where I really think slippage starts to occur,’’ Donovan said. “Not that I’ve seen any complacency, but they need to guard against it. When you’re walking around and people are telling you how great you are, how good you are, what we did to Wisconsin and Marquette and all this other stuff, I just told them that there is nothing there that helps them become better players.”
Plus, Donovan knows points will be at a premium Wednesday night against Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State team.
The Seminoles consistently rank among the nation’s top defensive teams. And they should be extra motivated coming off a loss to Mercer at home on Sunday.
“There’s no reason we should be losing to Mercer at home,” Seminoles senior guard Michael Snaer said after Sunday’s 61-56 defeat. “We don’t want to do that.”
The Gators have spent the majority of their practice time since the Marquette win focused on getting better.
After watching film, Donovan said Marquette missed some open shots that it normally makes. He didn’t like the Gators’ transition defense. He also pointed out some defensive breakdowns in the half court.
The Gators say they get the message.
“This is our first road test,’’ guard Mike Rosario said. “We’ve just got to be in tune with what’s going on with our team and focused on what Coach is telling us to do. I feel like the guys are ready.
“We’re not satisfied. He feels like we can get better in a lot of areas. We’re just trying to focus on that every day.”
Five of Florida’s six wins have come at the O’Connell Center, and the other came against Middle Tennessee State on a neutral court in Tampa.
The atmosphere at the Tucker Center should be festive Wednesday considering the Gators are sniffing the top of the polls and, well, it’s Florida-Florida State.
“It’s a rivalry game, and they are going to be ready to play no matter what, no matter how many games they have lost,’’ Gators forward Will Yeguete said. “We are ranked pretty high, and that’s going to give them a chance to get a good win for their résumé.”
The Seminoles, fresh off a trip to the Sweet 16 a year ago, have already lost three times at home (South Alabama, Minnesota and Mercer). Doesn’t matter to Donovan. He sees a tall and physical team that loves to play defense and makes it difficult to score.
What he doesn’t want to see is complacency from his team.
“We’re not good enough to have a lot of slippage and still win,’’ Donovan said.