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Wednesday December 12, 2012Been Down this Road: Gators Taking Early Season Praise in Stride

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Picture the guys from the Florida basketball team kicking back in their dorm lounge when those talking-head analysts come on ESPN and the subject turns to the best teams in the country right now. 

 

Take Jay Bilas, for example. 

 

He was here to call the Wisconsin game last month -- an 18-point rout when the Gators shot 62 percent from the floor for the game, including 75 in the first half -- and just last week said UF was the best he’d seen this young season. 

 

Dick Vitale has been complimentary, too. Ditto the writers who cover college basketball for a living. 

 

And really, given the way the Gators have performed to date, the gushing is no surprise. 

 

“As impressive as any team in the country right now,” ESPN.com’s Andy Katz told GatorZone.com this week. “If there was one team I had to talk about right now as a potential Final Four team, Florida is that team.” 

 

[UPDATE: Not long after this story filed, ESPN.com's Jason King led his "King's Court" weekly column with this piece on Florida.]

 

So what do the Gators think when these shower of compliments pouring down? 

 

“Honestly, we don’t really talk about it that much or react to it that much,” senior forward Erik Murphy said. “We’ve got a group of guys who have been through it. We know none of that stuff means anything. It’s just talk.”

 

It’s pretty flattering talk, though. 

 

UF definitely has some of the best buzz of the young 2012-13, with a chance to become an even bigger topic of conversation -- both good and bad, result pending -- when the fifth-ranked Gators (7-0) visit eighth-ranked Arizona (7-0) Saturday night at 10 p.m. on ESPN, a game being billed by many as one of the best non-conference games of the season. 

 

Certainly one of the more ambitious ones ever undertaken by the UF program. 

 

Jeff Goodman, national college basketball writer for CBSSports.com, will be there.  

 

“The biggest surprise about Florida is not that they’re 7-0, it’s how they got to 7-0,” Goodman said this week. “They pounded Wisconsin and they pounded Marquette, but I really think the most impressive performance was going into Tallahassee -- in a rivalry game against a team with some pros on the roster -- and pounding Florida State, too. That game was never close.” 

 

Forget FSU had lost games home this season to South Alabama and Mercer. If the Gators, indeed, looked way better than the Seminoles on paper before the game, the fact they played like it speaks to this team’s maturity. 

 

There’s something to be said for having a starting lineup of three seniors and two juniors. 

 

Unless you hit the freshman lottery, experience is the way to go. 

 

“No doubt about that,” said Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports. “People lost a little bit of perspective with what Kentucky did with those freshmen last year. But don’t forget what Darius Miller, a senior, gave to that team. Or what some of those other leftover guys from [former coach] Billy Gillispie time did the year before that. Kentucky’s success sort of skewed the freshmen curve. I look at the veterans Florida has and I see a team you can have big success with.” 

 

Added Katz: “Duke has veteran guys. It’s a recipe that’s working at Syracuse, Michigan and Indiana, too. I think it’s the new norm, outside of what Kentucky was able to do.” 

 

UF’s upperclassmen bought into Coach Billy Donovan’s offseason sales pitch about improving -- not just a little, either -- on the defensive end. 

 

The Gators had been a middle-of-the-pack defensive team in the post-title years, finishing last in the Southeastern Conference in defending the 3-point line last season. 

 

Through seven games this season, UF is allowing opponents just 34.9-percent shooting overall, 32.1 from the arc and rank second in the nation in points allowed per game at 48.3. 

 

Goodman credits the backcourt of Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin for setting the tone on the defensive end. 

 

“And Patric Young has grown into a guy who can really make a difference when he plays with energy and on defense,” Goodman said. “I really like this team right now.” 

 

A lot of people do. 

 

UF, for example, checks in at No. 4 on ESPN’s weekly power rankings, with two of the six voters (writer Eamonn Brennan and college basketball editor Brett Edgerton) placing Florida third behind only Indiana and Duke. 

 

Doesn’t mean the Gators are reading that stuff, though. 

 

Or listening to it. 

 

“The games we’ve already played and won are over with, so who knows what’s going to happen the next game?” Murphy said. “All that talk really means nothing. I don’t know how anything anybody says can really mean anything. What I do is that we just have to keep working hard, keep improving and keep performing.” 

 

 

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