Online Now 588

Too soon for title team comparison?

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ever since winning back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, coach Billy Donovan has used his title teams as reference points for where his current crop of Gators are at in terms of development.

Senior guard Mike Rosario is one of four starters averaging double-figures for the Gators through the first seven games.

For once, though, it's starting to look like now No. 6 Florida might actually be getting close to that level again.

No, the Gators aren't returning five starters from a team that won the national title the year before. But this year's edition of Billy Ball bears a lot of similarities to the first of Donovan's title teams.

The team entered the year ranked in the Top 10, but relatively unheralded. The top two stars from the team a year ago, Brad Beal and Erving Walker, are gone, much like in 2005-06 when the Gators lost Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh.

Through the first seven games, both the 2006 title team and this year's Gators were unbeaten.

This year's Florida team has done it in similar fashion, if not more impressively. The first title team gave up 61.4 points per game through the first seven. This year's team is giving up just 48.3.

Donovan's first title team held opponents to 41.0 percent shooting from the floor and 37.4 percent from three in its first seven games. This year? Those numbers are down to 34.9 and 32.1 percent, respectively.

The competition has been similar. In 2005-06, the Gators faced heavyweights Wake Forest, Syracuse and Florida State in their first seven games. This year they've faced Wisconsin, Marquette and Florida State.

The first title team won its first seven games by an average 18.0 points per game. This year's team has beaten its opponents by 25.3 points per game.

The scoring has been almost as equally rounded as the title team, though this year's Gators aren't quite as efficient passing or shooting just yet.

This year's team boasts four starters averaging double-figures scoring, the exact same as the 2006 title team after seven games. Only this year's squad has three other players averaging at least seven points per game, whereas the title team had just two.

So the Gators are also deeper this season.

Is it too early to start making comparisons to a team that won back-to-back national championships? Probably.

After all, Donovan has warned his team repeatedly that they have a razor-thin margin of error.

"I'm telling you, you look at these games and you guys think, 'We're up by 30, we could have just showed up and won the game.' I'm telling you, you would have lost," Donovan told his team in the locker room after beating Florida State on Wednesday night. "That's the difference between when you put your heart and soul and everything into something how good you can be in relationship to going in there and going through it half-heartedly."

So far, that's the reason this Florida team is starting to remind a lot of fans about the title teams.

It isn't that the defensive numbers they're putting up are better than the ones Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green did.

It's because they never stop working to improve, despite beating quality opponent after quality opponent by double-digits.

The talent is undoubtedly there. Some of Donovan's best teams have been ones without superstars, teams that bought fully into the Billy Ball concept and played as a unit whose sum was greater than its parts.

This Florida team has a lot of really, really good parts. The scary thing is that the whole is much greater than those parts.

And the Gators haven't even played their best game yet.

Donovan won't let them forget it. How well these Gators remember that, stick to his plan and keep improving throughout the year will tell us exactly how far off a title comparison may be.

But right now, it certainly doesn't look like the craziest comparison in the world.

"The thing that's great is we can still continue to get better," Donovan said. "There's so much we can get better at, which is great."

Already have an account? Sign In