Coming off a double overtime spectacular with Gonzaga, the Gators now get to reset for a day before taking on the #1 ranked team in the country: the Duke Blue Devils. A year ago it took some time for the Gators to obtain a quality win for their resume, so after Friday’s victory over Gonzaga the team shouldn’t be lacking in confidence. Before this championship game with Duke, I took a look at the numbers to see what the Gators can do to have success.
Season To Date
Coach K and company come in to Sunday with a crisp 7-0 record. Before the PK80 they beat Elon, Utah Valley, #2 ranked Michigan State, Southern, and Furman. They kicked off the PK80 with a bit of a scare as Portland State was hanging with them for most of the game, but they were able to pull away for a 99-81 victory. Then on Friday Texas took them to overtime but ultimately they were able to edge them out. With the Gators sitting at 5-0, only one of these fantastic teams will make it out of the weekend undefeated.
Feeding the Beasts
If you watched Gonzaga’s frontcourt overmatch the Gators for much of Friday’s game then you aren’t going to like what you’re about to hear: Duke’s frontcourt could be even more dominant. The Blue Devils have two mountains handling paint duties for them, possible #1 draft choice Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Bagley has used his NBA ready body and length to average 21.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and he could be one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. Carter is averaging 13.7 points and is right behind him on the glass with 9.4 rebounds per game. These two are leading Duke to being the second best offensive rebounding team in the nation, as they get their own rebound on a mind blowing 44.5% of their misses. Florida will have to find a way to keep these two giants off the glass and not allow Duke to dominate the possession battle.
When a team knows they are outmatched on the glass, sometimes they play extremely aggressive on the perimeter to try to get steals knowing that if the offense gets a lot of shots up they won’t be able to defensively rebound well. The Gators have the team speed to play this way, and they average 8 steals per game and get many more deflections. Duke is 48th nationally in offensive turnover percentage, so they definitely aren’t loose with the ball. If the Duke bigs are really killing Florida on the glass, look for them to ratchet up pressure on the perimeter to try to limit their possessions that way, though it might not be incredibly successful again the talented Duke guards.
According to KenPom, Duke is the #1 ranked offensive team in the country. They have a strong effective field goal percentage at 54.9% and as I mentioned before they don’t turn the ball over much, so overall they play with a lot of efficiency. They are most dangerous in the paint, as 59.2% of their points come from 2-pointers (the 15th most in the country). A lot of those high percentage shots come from Bagley and Carter getting offensive rebounds and putbacks, as 10.1% of Duke’s total shots come three seconds or less after getting an offensive rebound. Once again, this echoes how important rebounding will be in this contest. Like many young teams, Duke does not shoot the basketball well and that is one place where their offense is below average. Their 32.6% from 3 is 222nd in the country, and only 22.1% of their points come from the 3-point shot which is 317th nationally. The lack of shooting means they play out of the post a lot and 11.6% of their shots come from post isolations. Repeatedly getting fed post isolations from Johnathan Williams against Gonzaga the Gators have now seen offense like this, but will need to somehow need to improve at defending these attacks. Could the Gators try to play zone against the Blue Devils? Playing zone could give more opportunities for trapping and getting steals, and since Duke doesn’t shoot the ball well they don’t have that option of easily exploiting the zone’s weak spots. One struggle of zone defense is defensive rebounding, but if Duke is going to dominate on the glass in man defense anyways, it might be something to consider. Teams have only played zone against Duke 3.6% of the time this season so there isn’t a big sample size to suggest Duke struggles against that defense or anything but it is certainly something worth considering.
Sporting the 36th ranked defense, Duke uses the size of their frontcourt to firmly control their side of the court. They have limited opponents to a 46.6% effective field goal percentage, and use their length to lock down the paint and force contested outside shots. The Blue Devils also play a good deal of zone defense, 42.1% of the time to be exact, so the Gators will almost certainly see that from them. Florida struggled against Gonzaga’s zone, as without a strong presence in the high post the Bulldogs could extend their pressure further out on the perimeter and not allow the jump shots that a zone usually concedes. Egor Koulechov was given the high post role against the zone but he was not effective in commanding the ball and creating angles for the guards to make passes, so I think trying to get Keith Stone there more often would be a better deployment of talent. The reason the Bulldogs ultimately got out of the zone was the incredible shot making of Jalen Hudson so if he or one of the other elite shooting wings like Koulechov or KeVaughn Allen can heat up then Duke might be reluctant to sit back. Another way to beat a zone is to send cutters through the seams of the zone and try to find them with passes, and when those cutters are hit they are shooting a sky high 67.9%. Against a zone it can be easy to fall in love with the jump shot, but some intelligent off-ball movement could make for some easy buckets. Putting so much effort into offensive rebounding Duke has struggled at times in transition defense allowing 52.9% on these looks and fouling 13.6% of the time. If the Blue Devils are going to send multiple bodies to the glass then the Gators need to make them pay after they grab a defensive rebound. The starters played a whole lot for Florida on Friday with the game going in to double overtime, but hopefully they are recovered enough for a high-octane effort Sunday.
Blue Devils to Watch
I mentioned the frontcourt players Bagley and Carter, and with their size they will be hard to ignore. They also have this player, you may have heard of him, named Grayson Allen who might just be the most hated player in college basketball and plays the role of Duke Villain extremely well. After not having a true point guard last season Trevon Duval was given the reigns this year, and at 6.6 assists per game it looks like he knows how to distribute the ball. The Blue Devils rely heavily on their starters, so you should see a heavy dose of these guys.
Whoever can step up to stop the Duke big men. Egor Koulechov was forced to play the four for much of Friday night’s game and at 6’5” and 200 pounds that is a very tall task. If Gorjok Gak, Dontay Bassett, or Chase Johnson can even give brief stretches of effectiveness to spell guys like Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone that could go a long way in helping the team defense. The shooting has been so strong for Florida, and they might need Jalen Hudson again down the stretch to hit some big shots. These are two incredible teams which means this one could come down to wire, so having the best shot maker on the floor could be the difference maker.
Playing the nation’s #1 team is always exciting, and taking them on in the championship game of one of the greatest early season tournaments of all time means this matchup should be absolutely electric. Stayed tuned in the Gator Country forums for some great discussion before, during, and after Sunday night’s game.