LEXINGTON – Florida coach Billy Donovan watched his No. 7-rated Gators get demolished, 78-58, by No. 1 Kentucky here Tuesday night, and Donovan afterward echoed in so many words what any educated fan would say: The Wildcats have the look of a national champion.
Granted, a lot can happen between now and tournament time some four weeks away, and anything can happen in a one-shot deal like the NCAA Tournament.
But Coach John Calipari's third Kentucky team is looking almost out of this world great at this point, having improved to 24-1 overall and 10-0 in the Southeastern Conference with Tuesday's win.
Donovan's Gators (19-5 overall, 7-2 in the SEC) have now played mighty Kentucky, Ohio State and Syracuse, all on the road, and lost to all three, but the earlier meetings with OSU and Syracuse were much much closer than Tuesday's bout with the Wildcats.
"So we've had a pretty good glimpse of some teams who have been in the top five all year," Donovan said. "I think in terms of star power, in terms of talent one through six or seven, I think Kentucky has as much talent as anybody. They certainly have six guys who are going to be first-round (NBA) draft picks on their team."
The Wildcats are a matchup nightmare, especially when they are hitting from the perimeter as they were against Florida.
Kentucky hit 29 of 55 from the field for 52.7 percent in this game, and that included nine of 15 from three-point range. Doron Lamb was four of five in three pointers on his way to a team-high 18 points. Marquis Teague was two of three and Kyle Wiltjer two of two from three-point land.
But, defend the three-point shot against Kentucky at your peril. Anthony Davis, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist and Terrence Jones will eat you alive if you cheat on the perimeter defensively.
"You have to give help in the post because of Gilchrist and Davis and Jones – just their length and size," Donovan said. "You just don't want the other guys (Lamb, Teague, Darius Miller) off on an island, so you have to come out there, too."
The Wildcats hurt the Gators from every spot on the court. Kidd-Gilchrist had 13 points and 13 rebounds; Davis had 16 points, six rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals. Teague had 12 points and a season-high 10 assists. Miller added nine points. Jones had just four points, but added seven rebounds.
And the Wildcats were again spectacular defensively, holding Florida to 34.9 percent from the field on 22 of 63. The Gators were just six of 27 from three-point range.
"It was great coaching and great scouting," said Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal, referring to Kentucky. "They know that we are a three-point shooting team, and they took our best strength away from us."
Beal had 14 points and six rebounds for the Gators. Junior guard Kenny Boynton led Florida in scoring with 18 points. But nobody else did much for Donovan's team outside of Boynton and Beal.
"We're playing good defense from a lot of different positions," Calipari said.
"Everyone is playing great, and everyone is playing their role," Lamb said.
"Listen, they are very, very good,'' said Donovan, whose Gators won back to back national titles in 2006 and '07. "There is not one thing necessarily you do against them that is a formula to win. They obviously have good shooting. Lamb is a very capable shooter. Miller is a capable shooter. I think Teague – when he gets his feet set – is a solid shooter. Jones, every once in a while, can throw one in on you. But then you also have to account for the backboard, and you also have to account for the post ups and things at the basket."
Donovan also said he loves the way the Wildcats carry themselves on the court. Without directly saying it, the Florida coach suggested Calipari's players carry themselves like, well, a national champ.
"The thing I like about their team is I love their disposition on the floor," Donovan said. "I have a lot of respect and admiration for Gilchrist - just his disposition out there.
"And I think in 2006 and 2007, for us, there was a certain disposition that you have to have," he added. "I'm not talking about arrogance or cocky, but I'm talking about a focus level of what really goes into winning at this level, like there's a mentality there that's just different.
"I don't know how to describe it. I think a lot of their guys...I think Davis and Gilchrist...and I've always been a Miller fan...just the way those guys carry themselves, I'm impressed with that."
Donovan did not say Kentucky is a shoo-in to win the national title, but he did say: "Clearly, I think if they went all the way, it wouldn't be surprising."
It also wouldn't surprise Donovan or anyone else if Syracuse is Kentucky's toughest road block.
"Syracuse, to me, is a really, really interesting team because they have as much length as Kentucky, and they have more depth," Donovan said. "So they are an interesting team. And I don't know who necessarily would be better because I think that Syracuse would play all zone and their zone is a little bit unique.
"But if you are looking at talent, Kentucky has got it. I don't know if Syracuse has six first-round draft picks, but they have really good talent and incredible length, and it would be a heckuva game."
But the Wildcats may be involved in a heckuva game long before a potential meeting with Syracuse, such as in Saturday in Nashville when Kentucky plays Vanderbilt.
Tip off for that one is 9 p.m.