ST. LOUIS, MO — This can’t be one of those “the devil made me do it” nights for the Florida Gators. The way Florida Radio Network analyst Mark Wise sees it, if the Gators are to advance beyond Friday night’s Sweet 16 game in the Midwest Regional with Butler (7:10 p.m. EDT, Edward Jones Dome, CBS TV), they will have to turn their back on temptation.
“They would love to take their chances with you in a three-point shooting contest,” said Wise, who says the Gators (31-5) are going to have to be patient and they will have to stay disciplined to beat this under-sized but very talented Butler team that hopes to tempt Florida into a shootout from the arc. Butler’s tallest starter is 6-7, going against a Florida lineup that will have a front line of 6-11 Joakim Noah, 6-10 Al Horford and 6-9 Corey Brewer.
To compensate for its lack of inside size and presence, Butler spreads the floor and generates almost 50 percent of its offense from the three-point line. Butler won’t try to run the floor with anyone. The Bulldogs have given up only 70 or more points six times all season and they are content to play 130 point games.
The defensive strategy is to play a very physical game, particularly in the paint. The Bulldogs (29-6) aren’t afraid to pack the paint and force opponents’ big guys off the low blocks. When Butler jams up the paint, it’s almost as if the Bulldogs are daring opponents to load it up and fire away from the three-point line.
“Defensively, what they try to get you to do is settle,” said Wise. “They jam the paint and they dislodge you off the block so if your bigs are getting the ball they’re getting it out further out than they want to. They’re content if you’ll settle for three-point shots instead of working harder to get the ball inside. If they can get you to settle for three-pointers, they have a real chance to win games against taller opponents.”
Butler’s offense has a lot of Princeton principles. The Bulldogs normally operate from a set with one post player and the other four spread and always moving on the perimeter. There’s a lot of motion and if there are openings, the Bulldogs won’t hesitate to drive to the basket, but normally, they will work the shot clock down to about 12 seconds before they start looking for a shot.
“If they can get a free lane to the basket or for instance, a wide open three early in the shot clock, they’ll take it,” said Wise. “But if the open shot isn’t there, they want to run the clock down and make you chase them. They don’t do a lot of standing around so you have to move your feet and defend. They want you to spend a lot of time playing defense.”
The primary purpose of Butler’s post player is to set screens. The screen is the constant in the Butler offense because it sets up everything they want to do.
“We all know that they have 50 percent of their points from beyond the arc,” said Wise. “They get it in a variety of ways — whether it’s in half court offense or in transition. They do a lot of screen the screener, where they screen on the ball and then screen on the guy that screens on the ball. That’s where Florida’s bigs will have to step out and close out.”
Florida does have a taller lineup but the Gators are blessed with big guys that can defend on the perimeter.
“Playing the SEC schedule has gotten Florida ready for this game,” said Wise. “Vanderbilt does a lot of similar things, so does Tennessee. Florida’s bigs have gotten used to defending on the perimeter.”
In the five games that began with the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Gators have held opponents to 20-98 shooting from the three-point line. The good three-point defense has a lot to do with the ability of the big guys to defend outside of the paint.
“The thing that makes Florida so good defending the arc, is the length and the basketball IQ of the big guys,” said Wise. “They understand when to close out on shooters, when to help out on screens. Their basketball IQ is off the charts and that will come into play in this game.”
Wise says the Gators will be in good shape defensively if they can hold Butler under 35 percent.
“I guess if I had to choose the magic number defensively it would be 35 percent,” he said. “They’re going to shoot enough so they’re going to make threes so you’re not going to eliminate that from their game. What you want to do is make them less efficient. So if it’s 35 percent or less Florida wins the game.”
Against Old Dominion in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs had a bad half shooting the ball but that didn’t stop them from launching from the three-point line. Florida has to be aware that the Bulldogs will keep on shooting from beyond the arc even if they aren’t knocking down shots.
“Against Old Dominion they made seven in the second half,” said Wise. “They came out to start the second half where (A.J.) Graves initiates the offense, he goes through, they run some misdirection, he comes off a double [screen] and knocks down a three and that gets them going in the second half. They aren’t going to stop shooting threes if they aren’t hitting them. They’ll just keep working and working to get their guys shots.”
Wise said the Butler offense is very “scheme oriented” and not a free-lance passing game. There are lots of schemes and every screen, every pass is designed to get the Bulldogs a shot that they’re comfortable taking.
“They take a lot of threes but they aren’t wild threes,” he said. “They aren’t just going to throw it up. It’s not a five-man motion in terms of wherever you go. It’s all about the arc, screening and slipping, picking and popping and screening the screener. They want you to work and they want to get the shot they want.”
The Gators can’t allow the hard work and effort on the defensive end to transform itself into frustration on the offensive end.
“Florida needs to run its offense and be patient to work the ball for shots they want,” said Wise. “The trick for Florida will be to get ball reversal so the weakside help always changes and then to jam it inside. That way they get what they want instead of settling. That’s what Florida did against a really good Purdue team — they settled. They cannot settle offensively and expect to win this game.”
Against Purdue, Horford stepped outside to hit a pair of 12-foot shots early in the half. That, Wise said, was like “fool’s gold” because for the longest time the Gators settled for that shot instead of making the extra passes to get the ball inside. He believes the Gators can get the ball inside against Butler, but they will have to work hard for position on the low post and keep the ball moving to get the big guys open.
“If you’re [a big man] getting it more than 10 feet away from the basket, that’s no good,” said Wise. “Kick it back out and re-post. Get the ball where you want it, don’t settle for where they want you to get it.”
Wise said the Gators can’t expect to run up and down the floor. This figures to be a grind it out, possession by possession game.
“You have to be willing to win this game 64-58,” said Wise. “You’re not going to speed them up. Florida may press to get their own energy level up but you don’t want to give them open threes in transition which you will give them if you press. You don’t figure this will be a game in the 70s. The magic number is 35 percent. If the Gators hold them to less than 35 percent from the arc, Florida wins.”