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By LARRY VAUGHT
How good is Kentucky?
Good enough that Florida coach Billy Donovan had no trouble admitting it would be no surprise to him if the Wildcats won the national championship.
â€œIn the (NCAA) tournament, it is a one-shot deal and anything can happen,â€ said Donovan after No. 1 Kentucky rolled to a 78-58 win over No. 8 Florida Tuesday. â€œBut if they went all the way, it would not surprise me.â€
Why should it? Kentucky is playing magnificent basketball right now. Florida scored only 58 points, and thatâ€™s more than any of the last four teams did. The Gators shot only 34.9 percent from the field, but donâ€™t forget Kentuckyâ€™s defense is leading the nation in field goal percentage defense.
Offensively, Kentucky went 9-for-15 from 3-point range thanks to a 4-for-5 effort from Doron Lamb and 2-for-2 from Kyle Wiltjer, and had five players score between nine and 18 points. The Wildcats got 16 fast break points.
Donovan knows about championship teams. He was at Kentucky when the Cats won the 1996 national title.â€ˆHe guided Florida to back-to-back titles himself. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s worth noting that the one thing he might like most about Kentucky is an intangible ingredient.
â€œThe one thing I like best about their team is I love their disposition on the floor,â€ Donovan said. â€œI have a lot of respect and admiration for (Michael Kidd-) Gilchrist. Just his disposition out there. Itâ€™s certainly the disposition you have got to have. Not arrogance or cockiness.â€
Donovan says championship teams have a certain focus level and mentality that is different from other teams. He sees that in Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Darius Miller â€” â€œI have always been a Miller fanâ€ â€” and the way Kentucky players â€œcarry themselvesâ€ on the court.
The Gators have had a first-hand look at perhaps the nationâ€™s three best teams as they have now lost at Ohio State, Syracuse and Kentucky.
â€œA lot comes down to matchups (in the NCAA Tournament),â€ Donovan said. â€œA lot is how you are playing. But they could get a team that is a bad matchup for them. They have as good a chance (at winning the national title) as anybody.â€
How do the three teams compare?
â€œI would say Ohio State is different because it does not necessarily have the length,â€ the Florida coach said. â€œSyracuse is interesting. It has every bit as much length (as Kentucky) and more depth. Obviously, they play a zone.
â€œI think they are all a little bit different. In terms of star power, in terms of talent one through six or seven, I think Kentucky has the most of anybody. Syracuse just has incredible depth. I donâ€™t know who would be better. If you are just looking at talent, Kentucky clearly has six guys that will be first round draft picks on this team. I donâ€™t know if Syracuse has that, but they have good talent and incredible length. I think it would be a heck of a game and would be a heck of a game with Ohio State.â€
So does Florida freshman Bradley Beal, who had 14 points, six rebounds and three assists to lead the Gators. Remember, he was heavily recruited by Kentucky and knows UKâ€ˆfreshmen Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist well.
â€œAll three are tough teams. They are all different, but all good,â€ Beal said. â€œOhio State is very versatile, similar to Kentucky. Syracuseâ€™s zone is hard to play against and they have good offensive guys on the floor and on the bench.â€
Who would he vote No. 1?
â€œI am not sure. I will not answer that, but it terms of record, it still would probably be Kentucky,â€ Beal wisely said.
Kentucky is now 24-1 and 10-0 in Southeastern Conference play. This was supposed to be a big test after UK won its last three games by 24 or more points. Now the Cats still have road games at Vanderbilt Saturday and then Mississippi State and Florida later in the year. Kentucky coach John Calipari emphasized after the game that UK would still be tested and â€œpromised it would be a different gameâ€ at Florida.
But is Kentucky clearly too talented for other SEC teams?
â€œThey are very, very good. I donâ€™t think anybody in our league has the level of talent they have,â€ Donovan said. â€œJohn does a great job of getting them to mesh and play together. They continue to get better.â€
However, Donovan did say he thought Kentucky would have â€œhard gamesâ€ at Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
â€œI think right now they are playing at a high level and playing well,â€ Donovan said. â€œI would not say they could win them all and I would not say they could not win them all. In terms of talent level, nobody (in the SEC) is there. Nobody in our league has what Kentucky has in terms of the top seven.â€