The Florida men’s basketball team owns its highest ranking since winning a national championship six years ago.
Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Gators surged to No. 4 in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches’ polls Monday. UF (16-2, 6-0 SEC) received one No. 1 vote in each poll. The Gators trail No. 1 Michigan, No. 2 Kansas and No. 3 Indiana.
Florida coach Billy Donovan downplayed the significance of his team’s jump — the Gators were No. 8 in the AP poll and No. 7 in the coaches the previous week — and steered the attention toward Wednesday’s home game against South Carolina (8 p.m., WTCN-15) with an analogy about driving a car.
“You go out and drive in a country field and there’s nothing to look at,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, you get into the city and all of a sudden there’s a bunch of sights and sounds and things you start looking at. If you’re not paying attention to what’s in front of you, you drive the car right off the road into a pole.
“Our guys have got to understand that the chatter around them is on the peripheral. It’s got nothing to do with us preparing to get ready for the next game. We’ve got to drive our car with two hands on the wheel, inside the lane and looking at what’s in front. And what’s in front of us right now is South Carolina.”
Florida has won five of its past seven against the Gamecocks (12-7, 2-4).
Donovan also deflected talk about his team’s ranking and postseason positioning by pointing out that UF only jumped in the polls because of losses by higher-ranked teams Duke, Syracuse, Arizona and Louisville last week.
The Gators are the highest-ranked team in the SEC, followed by No. 16 Ole Miss and No. 17 Missouri. The Rebels (17-2, 6-0) come to Gainesville on Saturday.
UF is third in the nation in fewest points allowed and fifth in opponent field-goal percentage. The Gators’ average scoring margin of plus-22.6 points per game is second in the country to Indiana.
Florida’s only losses came in December at Arizona (now No. 8) and against Kansas State (currently No. 18) in Kansas City, Mo., by a total of seven points.