Florida Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan knew going into this new season there were going to be concerns, but one that stood out the most was the team’s identity — especially on defense.
For those who know Donovan, he’s as blunt as they come about his basketball teams and as he expressed his thoughts of this year’s team, they’re nothing like last season’s squad.
“We don’t have the size, strength or physicality at the basket that we had a year ago,” said Donovan. “We just don’t.”
Despite what the team looked like last year with limited height, Donovan described them having the utmost physical presence when playing defense, making up for their lack of height down low.
This season the team has Jon Horford and Chris Walker — both at 6-foot-10 — to protect the paint and play around the rim, which are the tallest players at center the Gators have had since 2007 with Al Horford and Joakim Noah. But their styles of play prevent them from actually dominating the center position.
“I wouldn’t say we’re a soft team at the basket, but we don’t have the girth and physicality of Patric. Will Yeguete was a physical presence around the basket. Prather was a physical player. We don’t have those kind of physical players,” Donovan said.“We’re a little bit of a different team as it relates to that. We’re going to have to do a good job collectively defending the low post and helping. But that’s certainly going into this year a concern of mine, what kind of presence we’re going to have at the basket.”
Making that point clear, this year’s team will have a different brand of play.
For now, forget how good the Gators were defensively last year because it’s going to be a process to get back up to that standard that was set in 2013-14.
One of the reason’s why last year’s team was able to display their dominating defense was because they had four seniors that had already made multiple trips to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 and were hungry to get over the hump and get to the Final Four.
That team faced adversity. This year’s team hasn’t gone through that yet. What we can expect from this team is their athleticism and shooting ability to get up and down the court.
Throughout the time freshmen forward Devin Robinson and guard Chris Chiozza have been at Florida, they’ve displayed great work ethic to Donovan. Robinson is gifted offensively, as Donovan put it. He’s a great perimeter shooter; he’s wiry and athletic.
“I’m very versatile,” Robinson said. “A big-man that can guard and go pass some, go out to the three. Just very versatile and long, lengthy. Any position you put me in I can play them all. If I’m on the court I’m just comfortable.”
Chiozza is similar to starting point guard Kasey Hill in the way of having great vision and can really pass the ball.
Both guards are short too, which Donovan isn’t sure if he wants to play small in the backcourt with two players, but it’s something that can possibly happen. Gator fans will remember that playing small in the backcourt can be effective as it’s someting the UCONN Huskies did last season and they beat Florida twice.
Adding to Robinson’s shooting abilities, Michael Frazier II automatically multiplies the shooting skill on this roster. Dorian Finney-Smith’s primary offseason focus was shooting and if he can shoot a higher field goal percentage than his 2013-14 average of .370 it will help Florida replace some of the offense they lost in the four seniors who graduated.
The direction Florida will seem to go beginning the season will be to apply more on offense, while their defense will take time to establish.
As we all know defense wins championships. That is what brought an SEC crown last year back to Gainesville and a trip to the Final Four. Defense is something this team will have to obsess over.
“I would say one thing that’s better with this team than a year ago is we have a little bit more shooting than we had the previous year,” Donovan said. “We may be better at passing the basketball than we were a year ago. We don’t have that defensive nastiness that we had a year ago, and we’re going to have to work hard to develop it.”