GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Following two days away from the practice court, the top-ranked Florida Gators will begin preparations Tuesday as prohibitive SEC Tournament favorites — and the conference’s only ranked team.
The rest of the SEC stumbles into the league’s showcase event looking to gain some serious traction prior to Selection Sunday.
Gators coach Billy Donovan also is looking for momentum, improvement and a sense of urgency from his team this week at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. The Gators (29-2) will open play at 1 p.m. EDT Friday in a quarterfinal matchup against the winner Thursday between Missouri (21-10) and Texas A&M (17-14).
“The regular season is over with,” he said Monday. “Everybody in the league starts over and it’s 0-0.”
Winners of a school-record 23 straight games and a virtual lock for the No. 1 seed next week in Orlando during the first week of NCAA Tournament, the red-hot Gators have plenty to work on, according to their coach.
First off, the Gators (29-2) move on from the best regular season in school history, culminating with Saturday’s 85-64 win against Kentucky to end the SEC season 18-0.
“The biggest area for us is to get emotionally, mentally and psychologically past what happened on Saturday,” Donovan said.
Emotions were high following Senior Day and a post-game net-cutting ceremony following a rout of the program that has set the standard of excellence in the SEC.
Now that the Gators are rested and have returned to Earth, Donovan will be quick to point out how a stretch of poor shot selection and shaky transition defense allowed the Wildcats backs into the game with a 15-0 run.
Donovan said his guards also have to rotate better and box out when the Gators’ big men double team the low post. Fine-tuning the team’s pick-and-roll on offense is another area where Donovan seeks improvement.
“Not that you want to overload these guys with all this information I’m mentioning,” Donovan said, “but how do you take some of these trends that are really critical and important and point out these trends right now that they’ve got to adjust to, they’ve got to get better to and they’ve got to respond to?
“... I always say we need to get better and we can get better and we can improve.”
The Gators hope their record-setting regular season is just the beginning, but they are well aware of the demands of the coming weeks.
Florida has lost in two of the past three SEC Tournament title games and been bounced from the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight three seasons in a row.
“The ultimate goal is to be national champions,” senior center Patric Young said Saturday. “It feels good to sit back right now and say that we have accomplished something, but we still have to get back to work.”
Florida won its second straight national title in 2007, the same year the school won its last SEC Tournament title.
The 2006 and 2007 teams, led by NBA lottery picks Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer, were 18-0 during the postseason.
“That’s incredible what those guys did,” Donovan said.
While Donovan points out a talent gap between the two teams, he sees some similarities.
Michael Frazier II and Lee Humphrey are tremendous 3-point shooters; Scottie Wilbekin and Taurean Green are decisive point guards with a knack for clutch baskets; Young and Noah play with incredible energy; and Casey Prather and Brewer are tremendous slashers and open-court players.
But the biggest resemblance is the two teams’ chemistry and like-mindedness.
“These guys have done a great job of serving one another and not being totally focused on me, I, what I want, what I need,” Donovan said. “I think that’s been something that’s made them special. I think when you can get young people to do that, that really allows you to create something special.”