EDITORS NOTE: Possession totals listed below are NOT exact. They are estimates derived by the formula used by statistician Ken Pomeroy at Kenpom.com: FGA-OR+TO+.475*FTA. Read more on it here. All data is current through March 25th, 2014.
MEMPHIS, Tenn.– The boxing cliché “styles make fights” will be on full display when Florida plays UCLA just 1.5 miles away from where one of the more famous boxing matches in 21st century was held in Memphis’ Pyramid Arena: 2002’s Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson. That night “Iron” Mike was knocked out by Lewis in the eighth round and the Englishman retained his IBF, IBO and WBC heavyweight championships.
Thursday night a title won’t be on the line but the chance to survive and advance to bouts of increasingly larger scales will be in the FedEx Forum.
At its best defensively, Florida will press in the frontcourt before settling into a conventional and effective zone defense in the half-court. UF’s average defensive possessions last 20.2 seconds, per KenPom.com (that amount is second longest in the entire country). By contrast UCLA wants to push the pace with an average offensive possession lasting 15.8 seconds (15th in shortest in the nation). Also from Pomeroy’s data, the national average for possessions per game is 66.4, UCLA’s average is 69.6. They’re 42nd nationally in adjusted tempo with 21 games played involving 70 possessions or more, and two involving more than 80 possessions (neither of which went to overtime).
Florida has played only three games involving more than 70 possessions, with only one (its 84-82 victory over Arkansas) coming in overtime. Florida ranks 320th out of 351 division-1 teams in adjusted tempo through the third round of the NCAA tournament. The Gators have played seven games involving less than 60 possessions, UCLA has played in none-such games, in fact the Bruins’ only games involving less than 66 possessions have come in the postseason, an 84-59 win over Stanford (64 possessions) and their third round win over Stephen F. Austin (a season-low 62 possessions). The Lumberjacks rank near the Gators in adjusted tempo at 317th in the country.
Despite the data head coach Billy Donovan certainly isn’t opposed to picking up the pace just because his 2014 team might not play prototypical “Billy ball.”
“Sometimes you want the game to go up and down the floor,” Donovan said. “It doesn’t go that way. You’ve got to play in the half‑court. There’s other times the game does get going up and down the floor because of a lot of missed shots or turnovers and you’ve got to be able to play that way.”
Donovan elaborated to say his team does a fine job of playing at different tempos, as most teams still alive in the NCAA tournament do.
Gator IMG sports network’s Mark Wise told Gator Country he thinks that Florida can win a game in which the final score is either in the 50s or the 70s (meaning a game in which there are few possessions or many), while he feels UCLA can only win a game in which they score over 70 points.
“We all want the ball to go in the basket,” Donovan said. “I hope we score 120 tomorrow, but we haven’t done it this year. I think we want to play up-tempo. UCLA wants to play up-tempo. There’s things you have to do in playing up-tempo. You have to take care of the ball. You don’t want to give up easy baskets.”
At times the game won’t be a 94-foot run-and-shoot type game, and Florida’s head man says when that’s the case, half-court matchups will be key.
The biggest matchup question mark is how UF will guard UCLA’s 6-foot-9 guard/forward Kyle Anderson. Obviously when Florida is in zone it will be a team effort, but there will be many times when the Gators will be playing man, and the task will fall on Florida’s longer wing players to guard the 14.7-point-a-game scorer instead of point guard and defensive stalwart Scottie Wilbekin.
“Yes, it’s going to be tough,” Wilbekin said. “He’s definitely a unique cover. The Harrison twins and Jordan Clarkson were the two tallest guards that we faced this year. We’re just going to try to keep him out of the lane, not let him get a step because he obviously has great length. So if he gets a step on you, he can finish over and around you.”
Those are the styles, Thursday the bell will ring and the fight will be on.