Hoops doesn't want new ranking to affect play


Published: Monday, January 19, 2009 at 11:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 at 11:49 p.m.

Florida junior forward Dan Werner remembered what happened when the Gators returned to the Top 25 in January of last season.

Following a convincing 22-point home win against Vanderbilt, Florida worked its way back into the poll at No. 20. The Gators didn’t stick around long. Florida went on to lose its next two games at Arkansas and Tennessee, beginning a tailspin in which the Gators lost eight of 11 games.

“Kind of the same situation as last year,” Werner said. “Hopefully we don’t follow that path. We had some early success and we let it get to us a little bit.”

Florida returned to the Associated Press poll at No. 24 on Monday, its first time back in the poll in more than a month. Florida, ranked No. 19 in the preseason, fell out of the poll following a 57-55 loss to Florida State last Dec. 7.

The Gators (16-2, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) have won 10 straight since and are tied with Kentucky for first place in the SEC East. Florida didn’t reach the Top 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, but received the most votes (52) outside the top 25 teams.

“When talking about programs like Duke, North Carolina and UCLA, I don’t think they ever talk about their program being ranked as they think it is something that is supposed to happen,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I think with our team right now, they should expect that and it should have no bearing on how we perform in games and in practice.”

Florida saved the SEC from not having a team in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1989. Kentucky finished just outside the Top 25 with 105 votes. Tennessee fell out of the Top 25 following its 18-point loss to Kentucky at home last week.

How Florida embraces being ranked remains to be seen. Last year’s squad of mostly freshmen and sophomores were ill-equipped to handle success. This year’s Florida team is a year older, a year wiser.

“We still have a lot to do to get better,” said Florida sophomore point guard Nick Calathes. “Last year I think we overlooked some teams and it came back to haunt us. We thought we were already in the NCAA Tournament and had it all figured out.”

The veterans are passing that message down to the underclassmen. Florida freshman center Kenny Kadji said that senior Walter Hodge warned him about the rankings this week.

“He told me not to get too high on myself, that there’s still a long way to go,” Kadji said.

Indeed, Florida begins a stretch in which it plays three of its next four games on the road, beginning Wednesday at South Carolina. Florida will then play Sunday in a nationally-televised game at Vanderbilt before returning home for a Jan. 28 game against Georgia.

By then, Florida should have a better idea whether the ranking was a fluke or if the Gators can emerge as a serious contender for an SEC title.

“We just have to keep playing hard and not get too ahead of ourselves, keep the focus on the next game,” Hodge said.

FREE THROWS: Florida currently stands at 27 in the Ratings Percentage Index, a more accurate gauge of its current chances to make in the NCAA Tournament. Florida’s two losses this season have come against Syracuse (14 RPI) and Florida State (20 RPI.) Florida’s current strength of schedule is 105 and should improve with the meat of the SEC schedule beginning in early February and continuing into March. ... Kadji said that transfer center Vernon Macklin responded to Donovan’s comments about lack of physical play in practice last week. “He was everywhere and making us look bad,” Kadji said. “I think that’s why we rebounded the ball better last week.”

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