There’s a saying in football; offense sells tickets but defense wins championships.
Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators basketball team have taken that saying to heart and have developed a defense first style of play. Currently the Gators are ranked as the No. 7 team in the country in adjusted defense, an advanced metric that the site uses to rank teams based on “An estimate of the defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) a team would have against the average D-I offense.”
Ever the perfectionist, Donovan wasn’t happy with the way his team was playing defense early on this season and he let them know about it.
“Earlier in the year one of the things I had mentioned that I wasn’t very happy was where our defense was at,” he said. “And we had a long way to go back in October, early November.”
He may not have been happy when the season started but Donovan is pleased with how the Gators have improved defensively over the course of the season. The biggest factor in that improvement is something that nobody can control: time.
“Generally our most consistent guys are our older guys. Clearly I would say that if a guy has been here three of four years, they’re going to be a lot further along than maybe someone like Chris Walker or Kasey Hill, who are just starting out this year,” Donovan said. “For Kasey Hill, its 22 games. For Chris Walker, one game into his college career, there’s going to be a lot more slippage with those guys because they still have stuff to learn and get better at.”
If time in the system is the best way to get the most out of the defensive side of the ball the Gators are in luck. A senior-led team, Florida has played a suffocating brand of defense that is sixth in the country allowing just 57.4 points-per-game and recently held Texas A&M to 36 points – the lowest total an SEC opponent has scored against UF since 1950.
They may have started off slowly, in Donovan’s eye, but the team has bought into the system and shown their head coach that they realize a good defense will help their offense.
“This is one of our better teams in terms of coach-ability, buying in, wanting to do it, seeing the correlation between good defense, seeing the fact that we’re really struggling offensively first half against Missouri and our defense keeps us within a three-point game,” Donovan said. “I think our guys see that we’ve got to play very good defense, and then I think it does take some pressure off you offensively sometimes there.”
Past Donovan teams have lived and died by the three. It has been the unraveling of many Gator teams come tournament time. With the way that the Gators are playing defense, they will be able to compete in games even when they aren’t shooting lights out. It’s a style of basketball that Donovan has had success with and this might be the best defensive team that he has coached since a team that many Gator fans know and love.
“I mean Noah and Horford and those guys were really, really good,” Donovan said when asked if the 2014 team was the best defensive team he has coached. “I mean, these guys are good. I thought last year’s team was bought in defensively. Those guys have gotten a lot better.”