Will Yeguete met with the media Monday wearing something that represents a complete juxtaposition from one of his coach’s chief talking point and the senior forward’s strength on the basketball court: defense. It was an orange Ivory Coast soccer jersey, striker Didier Drogba’s No. 11 to be exact.
Drogba is a talented international player whose shining moments were during an eight-year professional career with Chelsea Football Club that ended in 2012. In March of that year, Drogba scored his 100th Premier League goal, the first African born player to reach such a milestone. His position and skill set make him a perfect scoring threat, something that is in stark contrast to what Yeguette brings to the court for the 3rd-ranked Florida Gators (17-2, 6-0 SEC), who try to remain the last SEC team standing with an unblemished conference record tonight when they face Mississippi State (13-6, 3-3 SEC) at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville).
Yeguete is a natural defender who is asked to bring energy on both ends of the court and help lock down the front court defensively, not a player who has particular acumen for scoring (averaging only 5.4 points per game) or one that is asked to fill that role.
Florida’s calling card, as a team, is on the defensive end of the court (while they still are very good on offense). Through 19 games, in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced rankings the Gators rank 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency (a weighted measure that estimates how many points a team would allow per 100 possessions against an average Division-1 offense). They also allow only .92 points per possession, tied for sixth among all teams in the 11 major conferences analyzed by Jon Gasaway every week in his Tuesday Truths column.
Why so good on D? Beyond the obvious — they’ve got great defenders on their team in Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Prather to name a few — it’s because head coach Billy Donovan pushes them to be great defensively. Yeguete says while they may be good, they’ve regressed a bit from his junior year.
“I think we’ve just had like a few good games,” he said. “I think compared to last year at this point. Last year we were a better defensive team by the numbers. So I think we know we have a lot of younger guys that didn’t really know how to play good defense I guess.”
One of those “good games” came in their most recent tilt, a 67-41 stifling of the Tennessee Volunteers. The Gators held the SEC’s fifth leading scorer, Jordan McRae, to only 1-15 shooting and five total points, his lowest output since December of 2012.
In 2014’s college basketball landscape, defense the way your father played it is no more. Increased emphasis by referees on calling handchecks and what appears to be a full-fledged movement against physicality in the game means defending without too much touching is of the utmost importance. That’s something Yeguete and Co. had to adjust to but he sees no drop off in how physicality is being officiated now that Florida is in the heart of its SEC schedule.
“I think it’s pretty much been the same,” Yeguete said. “Pretty consistent because we know what to expect now. We knew this was going to happen. So we’ve just got to adjust.”
Drogba is a scorer (twice a winner of the Premier League’s Golden Boot [for most goals scored]); Yeguete is a defender (top-25 in the SEC in steals and rebounds per game). Although he’s no longer a part of Chelsea there is a link between the two men, beyond the fact that both are from French speaking countries. “The Blues” as they are called, are best in The Premier League through 23 games in a specific statistical category: defense, only allowing 20 goals all season.
In soccer as in basketball defense isn’t left up to one player, it’s a total team effort.
“We got Scottie (Wilbekin) who is a really good guard and can get off the screens,” Yeguete said. “You have Pat (Patric Young) who is a really good interior defender. That allows us to be comfortable on the floor and on the court, and we play with a little more freedom on defense. It’s been working, hopefully we keep on going.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
FLORIDA (17-2, 6-0 SEC): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR); Casey Prather (6-6, 212, SR); Patric Young (6-9, 240, SR); Scottie Wilbekin (6-2, 176, SR); Michael Frazier (6-4, 199, SO)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (13-6, 3-3 SEC): Colin Borchert (6-8, 231, SR); Gavin Ware (6-9, 268, SO); Fred Thomas (6-5, 206, SO); Trivante Bloodman (6-0, 182, JR); Craig Sword (6-3, 194, SO)