ST. LOUIS, MO — If grind it out, semi-sumo basketball has you bored and thinking didn’t I see this last week at Wrestlemania, then you’re going to love Sunday’s Midwest Regional championship game between top seeded Florida (32-5) and third seeded Oregon (29-7). Florida radio analyst Mark Wise thinks this has the making of an up-tempo game with perhaps 160 or more points.
The last thing Oregon wants is a half-court game that bleeds the shot clock down to five seconds every possession. The Ducks of the Pacific-10 Conference average 76 points per game and all five of their starters average double figures. Oregon’s idea of tempo is to get out on the break every chance possible and win the game in transition, quite a contrast to Florida’s last two opponents, Purdue and Butler, which wanted to walk the ball up the court, run clock and shorten the game.
Oregon’s lineup is a Matt Bonner-like center, 6-9 Maarty Leunen (10.9 points/8.3 rebounds per game), a good passer that can step out and shoot the three, two big guards in 6-6 Malik Hairson (11/6) and 6-5 Bryce Taylor (14.3/4.5), and two small guards in 6-0 Aaron Brooks (17.5/4.3 assists) and 5-6 Tajuan Porter (14.8/44 percent on three-pointers). In terms of size, the Ducks are a little bit taller than either Purdue or Butler, but not by much.
The size issue, Wise says, is overrated because the Ducks are so quick and they have the ability to run the floor, turning the game into a track meet if the other team reciprocates.
“The difficulty with Oregon is the combination of their quickness and their ability to score from all five spots which Purdue and Butler did not have,” said Wise Saturday afternoon. “That makes them more difficult to guard than either of those first two teams. I think the answer will be that Florida zones more than they did in the first two games.”
Florida used a combination of zone and man defense against Butler, often in the same possession. Butler ran a lot of clock and didn’t even initiate the offense for a scoring opportunity until it was under 10 seconds so Florida Coach Billy Donovan played zone half the possession and went man once the Bulldogs tried to get their offense going. He won’t have to worry about Oregon running a lot of clock but he will give the Ducks plenty of different looks.
Wise says one of the keys to beating Oregon is to give the Ducks plenty of different defensive looks to throw their high-powered offense out of synch.
“The difficulty is that they have guys that aren’t just catch and shoot guys — they can be — but they can get the three off the bounce, just dribble and not take necessarily what we would call a good shot,” Wise said. “The problem is if you zone more can you get the guys to the perimeter quick enough without losing your rebounding. Against Butler, Florida had trouble rebounding out of the zone because they were so extended in the zone. I do think they will use zone because they want to give Oregon a lot of different looks.
“I think Florida will change up defensively on the pick and rolls. They used a straight switch against Butler but I don’t think they’ll do that against Oregon. I think they’ll show different things because you want to stay one step ahead of your scouting report. Oregon is probably expecting Florida to switch so I think maybe Florida will double out of the pick and rolls early to change up defensively. One thing you can do to combat quickness is change up things and that’s what I think they’ll do, using a lot of different looks.”
Florida will need to find answers for Porter, the ultra-quick freshman dynamo who doesn’t let his diminutive stature stop him. Against UNLV Friday night, Porter went off for 33 points, hitting eight of his 12 three-point shots. Porter will be the quickest player on the floor and when he’s making shots and getting the Ducks rolling in transition, they’re a very tough team to slow down.
But, Wise said, slowing him down is essential. Florida will need to use its size advantage to force Porter out of his comfort range. That might include trapping and using double teams, but Wise says the Gators have to be careful or else Porter will burn them.
“I think you can double him but you have to double him with room,” said Wise. “It’s like cornerning an animal. You don’t rush to the animal right away … you can still double him [Porter] and start minimizing the box, then when he picks up his dribble you can swarm with size and make it difficult. You can still double him but you can’t use that aggressive double.”
Porter is a Detroit kid that didn’t have a lot of Division I offers except for Oregon. Teams that snubbed him have paid the price all year. He’s a legitimate offensive threat and a big-time shooter. He does have some flaws in his game, Wise said, and the key for the Gators will be to exploit the flaws.
“He has a lot of city game,” said Wise. “There are times that I think he will take bad shots. What you want to do is force him into bad shots and hope that he misses a high percentage of those bad shots.”
As good as Porter is, the player Wise is most concerned about is his backcourt mate, Aaron Brooks. Brooks is the leading scorer on the team and like Porter, he’s a fine shooter. What makes his game so good is that he knows how to defer to teammates. Friday night when Porter had the hot hand, Brooks was quite comfortable doing whatever was necessary to help the team win the game while leaving the scoring load to Porter.
“Aaron Brooks is fantastic,” said Wise. “He didn’t show it last night because he knew Porter was so hot so he deferred. What makes them so difficult is that they’ve got three different guys that have gone for 30 or more in a game and then they have Leunen who can give you 20 on any given night. They have a lot of guys that can beat you. I think you almost have to live with Porter. He is not going to shoot that well every night. Aaron Brooks is going to shoot that well every night.”
Oregon is known for its high scoring offense, but the Ducks do play good defense. They’ve been particularly good defending the three-point line. They held UNLV to 9-33 from the three-point line Friday night. For the season, they are holding teams to 31 percent on three-pointers.
The problem for the Ducks will be combating Florida’s size advantage with 6-11 Joakim Noah, 6-10 Al Horford and 6-9 Corey Brewer on the front line.
“I think the difficulty for guarding Florida for Oregon is Florida’s bigs (Noah and Horford) because they can throw the ball inside to either one,” said Wise. “That’s different for Oregon and that’s a place they’ll struggle. Oregon has this aura of being an aggressive offensive team but that’s Florida. Florida needs to be the aggressive offensive team and pound it inside — play a little smash mouth basketball if you will … pound it inside and force them to defend and foul you. When Oregon fouls more than their opponents they are something like 2-6, but when the opponent fouls more, they’re something like 27-1. To me that is the game. You have to make them defend. You have to make them foul you.”
The Ducks play more zone than the Gators are used to seeing, in part because they try to hide Porter instead of exposing him to taller players that can post him up.
“They will play zone probably 35-40 percent of the time,” said Wise. “It’s a different kind of zone a little bit but I think personally they will have a hard time zoning Florida. That will open up shots for [Lee] Humphrey that he hasn’t had the last two games.”
Against the Oregon zone, Humphrey should get open looks from the perimeter when Noah handles the ball at the top of the key.
“Noah is so good at the free throw line area in terms of being a rotator offensively,” said Wise. “He can do so many things with the ball … pass it inside, pass it outside, take it down the lane himself. He’s makes you change what you want to do defensively.”
Wise says that the one player he thinks the Gators should take out of the game is Leunen, a 40-percent shooter from the three-point line who is second on the team in assists.
“If I had to pick on one guy I would attack Leunen.” said Wise. “He’s the one guy that limits them offensively if he is not in the lineup. He’s a big guy with Matt Bonner skills that can go out on the floor and shoot the three, but also set up other guys with good passes. I think the key would be to be aggressive offensively and attack Lunen.”
Wise thinks the Gators need to be patient offensively in the early going of each half. In the last two games, the Gators have given the appearance of starting slowly on offense, but Wise says the slow starts are deceptive since in both games the Gators were getting fouled early on.
“When you get a foul, that is a successful offensive possession even if you don’t score,” said Wise. “If you are successful on 50 percent of your offensive possessions that’s a very good ratio. You bring the ball down the floor early in the game and you get a foul, that’s a successful possession. Now you inbound the ball and you shoot and don’t score … so you’re still one out of two but you don’t have points to show for it. But later in the half, you’re in the bonus and then you’re at ten fouls and shooting two. That’s how Florida closed out the halves, both the first half and the second half against Butler. That’s going to be critical again. Florida has to get to the foul line and has to close out each half.”
Wise says Florida’s three keys to winning are get the ball inside to Horford and Noah, outrebound the Ducks and limit them to one shot, and whenever the Ducks are in the zone, make them pay by getting the ball to Humphrey for three-pointers.
“Defensively, eliminate their threes in transition,” said Wise. “Defensive transition is huge. I think one and done out of the zone. Give them one shot and that’s it in the zone so you have to rebound. Third, embrace the tempo. Everybody is talking about how Oregon likes to get up and down the floor. Well, Florida’s pretty good at that too so embrace that. If Oregon wants to play a game in the 80s, then go for it.”
Wise says the two key players for the Ducks are Brooks and Leunen.
“Leunen is the one guy that I don’t think they can do without because they don’t have anyone behind him with his skill set,” said Wise. “For Florida, I think Green is the key and I think Brewer is the next guy. I think Green has to play a great floor game because he is going to see some quickness out there. Brewer in terms of his shot selection — 2-10 the last two games beyond the arc — he can’t have a game like that and then have something like two assists and five turnovers. He’s got to be steady.”
Wise sees a Florida win if the Gators eliminate the point differential from the three-point line. The Ducks were plus-12 [points] from the three-point line against UNLV.
“If both teams shoot 40 percent from the field and Oregon shoots 10 threes and Florida gets only six, that’s a bad differential,” said Wise. “Florida can’t let them have that kind of advantage. Control the three-point differential and Florida wins.”