With Florida opening the NCAA tournament on Friday, several people are questioning the Gator Basketball team and their late season struggles.
GatorCountry.com decided to do a roundtable discussion with our staff and get Nick De La Torre, Andrew Spivey, Seth Puglio and Alex Gray’s opinions on four topics.
1.) What’s the biggest key for this team to advance far in the tournament?
NT: Defense, defense, defense. The Gators are one of the best defensive teams in the country and being able to stop teams will help the Gators advance in the tournament. Take their first round matchup against Northwestern State, the Demons are averaging 81 points a game with their fast-paced brand of basketball. There’s no way Florida gives up 81 points to anybody in this tournament
AS: Florida has to play inside the lane and stop relying on the three pointers if the Gators are going to advance deep in the tournament. Not only does Patric Young and Eric Murphy need touches in the block, but also the guards must attack the glass and create space for their teammates. If Florida can attack the glass and get open looks from the perimeter, this team will be successful.
AG: There’s a lot to choose from here. Post-play really sticks out to me though. Should they win Friday, the Gators could go against a number of teams with length and a physical presence inside down the line. Will Yeguete has been slow to return to his pre-surgery form since coming back in late February, and Florida will need all it can get from him, along with Patric Young, Erik Murphy and Casey Prather in the rebounding department. Murphy is obviously the single biggest x-factor not only on the Florida roster, but quite possibly the entire tournament. His ability to stretch the power forward spot is unmatched in the college ranks, and if he can get some quality looks outside, the Gators could light up the scoreboards throughout the tourney.
SP: I think the biggest key for this team is consistency on both ends of the floor. Florida’s best offense is a strong defense. When the Gators can lockdown an opponent defensively it allows them to create turnovers and generate open looks on the offensive end of the floor. Getting Will Yeguete back to close to 100% makes the Gator press deadly. If the Gators can successfully lockdown an opponent for a full 60 minutes instead of just 30 or 50, they are one of the best teams in the country and a threat to win it all. Billy Donovan even pointed out last year, every final four team in 2012 finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency, that’s no coincidence folks.
2.) Florida is 0-6 in single digits games this year what’s the key to overcoming that streak?
NT: I’ll take Ken Pomeroy’s lead on this one. Florida being 0-6 in single digit games doesn’t mean Florida can’t win those games. I understand the SEC was down this year but look at Florida’s wins. They blew teams out this year. The fact that Florida is 0-6 in close games just means they’re a good team and maybe wouldn’t have even been competitive in those games if they weren’t. They just need to stay focused and depend on their senior leaders.
AS: I agree with Nick a lot here that Florida has done a good job of blowing out opponents but let’s face it, the Gators aren’t going to blow everyone out in the tournament they need to finish the close games. I think the major key for this team is staying focused and relaxed in late game situations instead of forcing shots and playing out of control. The one thing I would like to see late in the game is a little inside out game with Young involved inside.
AG: While the Gators have shown no obvious signs of panic in their late-game collapses, there is no question the team has suffered from a number of serious mental lapses. Similar to last year (and the year before that), when things begin to look bleak, Florida turns to the three-point shot to get out of its offensive funk. This year’s team needs to stay within its identity and continue to play strong defense down the stretch in order to create turnovers as well as potential fast-break opportunities for easy points.
SP: Well I guess the easy answer here is to say they should just win every game by more then ten points, but that clearly isn’t an option. As I mentioned earlier, Florida just needs to keep the pressure on. People always point to their inability to score on offense for their late game struggles but I believe it all stems from the defensive end. Without Patric Young in the game, Florida gets in a lot of trouble defending the paint. If they want to play a strong, complete 60 minute game, they have to begin by taking care of business on the defensive side of the ball.
3.) Everyone says Florida needs one more player to step and take control. Which player do you see that being?
NT: I think it needs to be Eric Murphy. Murphy’s ability to shoot from all over the court forces opposing defenses to spread out over the floor. Spacing is key in basketball and if Murphy can take the opposing team’s big man out of the lane, it opens up driving and rebound opportunities for the Gators.
AS: I think it needs to be a combination of Patric Young and Mike Rosario. When Rosario is driving in the lane, playing under control, a lot of things happen around him. And for Young, when he is scoring inside it takes a lot of pressure off of the guards and helps Young on the defensive end as well.
AG: Again, a number of options to choose from here. I can’t choose one, but I will say that the player needs to be one of Kenny Boynton/Mike Rosario. Both Boynton and Rosario have shown an ability to take over games at times, but both have also shown an ability to take themselves out of games as well. Boynton is the more streaky shooter of the two, so if pressed, I’d say Rosario. Both players definitely say the right things, and show an impressive competitive spirit. As two of FLorida’s most dominant ball handlers and of course, seniors, the team would obviously like to see both step up in a big way over the next couple of weeks. But even if just one ends up doing it, the dividends could be huge for the Gators.
SP: For a while I thought it would be Erik Murphy, but he struggled mightily in the second half against Ole Miss missing some wide open
shots badly. I might catch a lot of flack for it but I still have confidence in Kenny Boynton. The guy’s demeanor never changes regardless of the situation and you can tell his teammates look up to him as a leader. He seems to have slowly re-found his shooting stroke during the SEC Tournament and that could be huge for the Gators moving forward.
4.) How far do the Gators go in this tournament?
NT: This is a tough call. Any team that lives and dies by the three like Florida does could easily be upset if their shooters have an off day. The key for me is Florida’s defense. I think that carries them through the first three rounds. They’ll have a tough matchup in the elite eight but I feel like the Gators should and will make a trip to Atlanta for the final four.
AS: I personally see Florida being an elite 8 team to a final four team. I know Florida struggled late in the year but Billy Donovan does something different in the tournament to get his guys fired up and ready to play. There is no question about how talented this team is when it’s on and the defense is outstanding, which can win ball games in the tournament. So I’m going to go with a berth in the final four.
AG: My opinion means nothing here because after one day, my bracket is completely busted. However, I have Florida bowing out in the Sweet Sixteen to Georgetown. Does Florida have the talent to win it all? Yes, very much so. However, I’m not a big believer in a team just being able to turn it on all of a sudden on the biggest stage there is. Florida had six chances to close out games late this season and failed to do so. Hard for me to believe the Gators will suddenly figure everything out now. I will offer one silver lining for Florida fans though: Next year’s team will be better than this year’s.
SP: I know everyone wants this team to badly break the Elight Eight spell this year and head to Atlanta for the Final Four once again. Unfortunately, I think the show will end in Arlington against Kansas in the Elight Eight once more. As much as I hope this team proves me wrong, they simply can’t finish teams off at the end of close games and don’t have a game changing offensive threat. What will be key for the Gators is post defense, it’s staggering to me how the Gators collapse on defense without Patric Young. They fail to lock down the post and allow open lanes to become freeways. I hope i’m proven wrong, but until then facts are facts and the Gators are yet to win a single digit contest.