Gators humble, hunted

University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan coaches sophomore Joakim Noah during Florida's 80-47 win over the University of Central Florida at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Saturday, December 3, 2005. Donovan, now in his tenth year as head coach, recorded his 200th win for the Gators Saturday.

BRIANA BROUGH/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Joakim Noah prefers to absorb more substantial works of literature than preseason basketball magazines.
But Noah, Florida's high-strung, 6-foot-11 forward, acknowledged he heard the preseason buzz that surrounded the basketball team with the loss of Matt Walsh, Anthony Roberson and David Lee.
"People were kind of hating on us," Noah said. "Everybody saying that we were going to be nothing better than a bubble team. I think that just fueled the fire in all of us. Even though we don't have the offensive firepower we did last year, as a team, we're stronger."
The perception of Florida, as it enters the Southeastern Conference schedule today at Georgia, is vastly different than two months ago. The Gators are ranked fifth in the country in both major polls. One preseason magazine also picked Florida fifth - in the SEC East.
Few anticipated a 13-0 start, back-to-back wins against Wake Forest and Syracuse in New York City to win the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and road wins against Providence and Miami. It has all resulted in Florida being the highest-ranked team in the conference and one of just two ranked schools in the league (Kentucky, at 10-3, is No. 19).
In essence, Florida has gone from hunter to hunted, the team the rest of the league will look to knock off for national acclaim. Only coach Billy Donovan isn't buying the perception of Florida as a target.
"If anything I see it as just the opposite," Donovan said. "You can't start the season and be unranked and everyone wondering how good you're going to be and then turn and two months later and be a target. If anything, our guys' mentality going into Georgia is we're a huge underdog right now because they're undefeated at home and they have all five starters returning."
Underdog? The mindset has served Florida well so far.
"I don't think it makes too much of a difference," Noah said. "We're going to stay hungry, we're going to stay humble regardless, because we know that in just a game or two the momentum can switch so fast. Right now, everybody is loving us, but we knew a couple of months ago everyone was doubting us. So, I think it's good because it gives us perspective of what it's all about."
Added sophomore forward Corey Brewer, who earned All-SEC freshman honors a season ago: "It's not really a role reversal because we haven't played an SEC game yet. We're still the team picked fifth in the SEC. We've got to come out and prove another point. It's a new year. It's basically a new season. We're 0-0. So we have to win just like we did in the beginning of the year."
Questions entering the year about scoring have so far been answered with Florida playing an unselfish style. The Gators are second in the SEC in scoring and lead in assists, with all five starters averaging double figures.
"Our execution, our unselfishness has gotten us where we are now," senior center Adrian Moss said. "But as of Saturday morning, we're 0-0."
Donovan believes his team has climbed the rankings more as a result of attrition than achievement. A win today could move Florida up as high as third in both polls on Monday because both No. 4 Memphis and No. 2 Connecticut lost earlier this week.
"We earned our way into the Top 25," Donovan said. "We moved down based on default, and I think that's probably the one bad thing with the way the polls go. It's very unfair. If you beat a top five team, then maybe you should move into the top five, and we haven't played any top five teams this year at all."
Considering the current state of the SEC, Florida likely won't face a top five team, unless Kentucky makes dramatic strides between now and March. But players and coaches insist the goal is to stay humble.
"It doesn't make a difference how other teams look at you," Donovan said. "It's how you view yourself. I think our guys view themselves as people viewed them to start the year. And the way they view themselves is they have something to prove. That's just the way it is right now."

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