Every coach sets expectations for his team before the season.
Coming off an national championship in 2006, Billy Donovan expected his team to defend its title in 2007. The Florida Gators met and exceeded those expectations.
This season, expectations are a little different. Donovan doesn't expect a national championship. Some Gators fans don't even expect a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, while some observers don't think the Gators, who lost all five starters from last season, will reach the field of 65.
"I think the one thing that happens with young people is that it's hard to have expectations on them," said Donovan, whose team will face Temple tonight at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., part of the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic.
"When you have expectations on someone, it means that you're expecting a level of consistency out of them, each and every day. I don't really have a level of expectation on them right now on how they should perform, but I do have a level of expectation about how hard and unselfish they need to play."
This will be the first time a Big 5 team has played a defending national champion since Villanova lost to 2004 champion Connecticut, 81-76, on Feb. 2, 2005. Temple, which has won four of its last five games, will still have its hands full.
Donovan now coaches a team with no seniors, two juniors and three sophomores, none with significant playing time. This core must now step out of the shadows of the championship teams that preceded them, including last season's team, which saw Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah chosen in the top 10 of the June NBA draft.
"Nobody on our team had any real reference point of what a college basketball season was like, because we have so many young guys," said Donovan, who has led the Gators to nine straight NCAA Tournament bids. "I was a little taken back when we first started, because we weren't even remotely close to the level of competing to even give ourselves a chance to win."
The Gators are 11-2, their only losses coming against Florida State and Ohio State. In both games, excessive turnovers and poor shooting were costly. In their 11 wins, the Gators are scoring 85.5 points per game and shooting nearly 53 percent from the field. In their two losses, they have managed only 50 points a game, on 36 percent shooting, including 17.4 percent from the arc.
"When we make mistakes, we make very loud mistakes, and a lot of times you can't recover from them," Donovan said. "Because we're so young, we don't have a great margin of error on our team."
Donovan stressed there is no room for error against a Temple team led by Dionte Christmas, who is averaging 19.9 points and 6.5 rebounds. Although Florida has limited opponents to only 59.1 points per game, the Owls are averaging 71.5 points and are ranked second in the Atlantic 10 in field goal shooting (47.8 percent) and three-point shooting (38.5 percent).
Despite his expectations for his team, Donovan thinks Christmas, the A-10's third-leading scorer, and senior co-captain Mark Tyndale, who is averaging 15.5 points a game, will continue to be the Owls' offense spark.
"From the games I've watched, I haven't seen anybody stop [Christmas]," said Donovan. "I say stop, as in stopping him from getting shots off." *