Florida Gators basketball: Achilles Heels

Every rose has its thorns, and the Florida Gators are no different. Last season was undoubtedly a success, and overachieved many national expectations. After hitting the ground running for the season’s start, only mild hiccups against strong competition tripped up the Florida Gators on their way to an Elite Eight. That doesn’t mean the team was perfect, however. They say “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” In the spirit of that expression, I’ve decided to dive into some of Achilles heels of the team from the past season, as well as some concerns for some returning players, in an attempt to see what the Gators can do to avoid these problems in the future and become stronger.

Florida vs. St. Bonaventure
Achilles Heel: Turnovers

This game ended up being a lot closer then what it had to be, and it was due to the 17 turnovers that Florida committed. The concerning part was many of these were “live ball” turnovers—turnovers where the other team gets a steal and are able to get running in transition. Florida ended up winning by 7, but it was tight down the stretch due to the easy buckets they gave up on the break. John Egbunu had 5 of these turnovers, a problem that nagged him throughout the season. He is going to command a lot of double teams, so it will be important for him to be able to identify when he has the chance to attack a guy one on one in the post, and when a double team is coming so he can kick the ball out to an open teammate. Adding to this issue will be the fact that when he comes back he will have missed a lot of games, and regaining his sense of timing could lead to some rough turnovers. As a 5th year senior, let’s hope he improves in this area.

Florida vs. Ole Miss
Achilles Heel: Free Throw Shooting

This is one that Florida fans have, unfortunately, became more accustomed to then they’d like these past few seasons. Poor free throw shooting reared it’s ugly head in this game, as Florida’s 52.4% from the charity stripe allowed Ole Miss to stay in the game, and the Gators only clung on to a 70-63 lead in a game that they looked to be dominating. Though missed points hurt no matter when they occur, a failed free throw attempt in the closing minutes of a tight game can be heartbreaking, and converting at a high rate in this area is huge in winning tough games. Having Chris Chiozza play more minutes and having Egor Koulechov transfer in should help free throw shooting, but many other players on the roster have struggled from the line and incoming transfer Jalen Hudson has shown holes in that area as well. This will definitely be something to keep an eye on.

Florida vs. South Carolina
Achilles Heel: 3-Point Shooting

We all remember this one. In one of the stranger games of the Florida season, the Gators shockingly went 0-17 from beyond the arc. The Gamecocks were one of the best defensive teams in the nation, but the Gators still had open looks that they needed to convert. The repeated clanking of jumpers ultimately lead to their 57-53 loss. Shooting, both hot and cold, can be contagious. Seeing teammates miss repeatedly can make a player lose confidence even when he isn’t the one shooting, and I think this snowfall effect is what we saw against South Carolina. The 3-point shot will be a big part of the Gators’ offense this year, so avoiding these treacherous shooting performances will be big.

Florida vs. Vanderbilt (x3)
Achilles Heel: Countering Strengths

Going 0-3 against Vanderbilt has to be the most bizarre storyline of last season. Obviously the Commodores were no slouches as they won some other big games and made the NCAA Tournament, but for them to control three separate games against the Gators was baffling. What was concerning about these losses was how Vanderbilt used the same game plan against Florida in every game, and despite the predictability the Gators were unable to stop them. Options out of screens set by Luke Kornet constantly gave Florida fits, and despite Vandy’s lack of point guard play they were still able to get into their offensive sets easily. It was clear everything was being ran to get 3-point looks (over 22 attempts in each matchup), and Florida still allowed them to get to their spots. Florida will get second, and maybe even third looks at a few SEC foes this year, and learning and adjusting is something they need to improve on.

Florida vs. Wisconsin
Achilles Heel: Interior Defense

Now, you could point to the loss of Egbunu as a contribution to the issue that was allowing Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes to score a combined 43 points of 16-25 shooting. His bulk would have certainly helped, but allowing so much offense to be ran through the paint was a team effort. Happ is a very intelligent player, and he used his IQ to pick apart the defense as it collapsed in on him. I think the interior defense would improve by showing a variety of different defensive looks on elite post players. The difference between sending an immediate double team and a delayed double team can be huge in messing up the timing of both the player and the offensive set, and changing up where a help defender is coming from can also prevent the defense from becoming predictable.

Now, lets take a look at some potential Achilles heels of individual players and see what they can do to improve in those areas.

John Egbunu
Achilles Heel: Foul Trouble

Tasked with being a physical post defender, Egbunu ended up with 3 or more fouls in more then half of his games, and had to sit for significant stretches in a handful of key contests. Entering his 5th year senior season, I think he will have learned to be wiser in how he moves his feet, and also in keeping his hands out of bad positions where the refs will want to call ticky tack fouls.

KeVaughn Allen
Achilles Heel: Complacency

Allen is a guy that has all the skills to be an alpha dog on the court. However, his reserved personality something seeps in to his playing style. There were certainly games he put up all his good looks, but there were also a lot of games where he played passively and didn’t shoot the ball where the Gators needed him. The greatest example of this was in the loss to South Carolina, where he only put up 3 attempts, and made zero. He will be tasked with the number one scoring role for the Gators, so seeing him take command every single game will be pivotal.

Chris Chiozza
Achilles Heel: Shooting Efficiency

Sometimes, Chiozza becomes a victim of his own unselfishness. Going through offense and driving when your only focus is to make a pass can sometimes be detrimental, as it makes you miss out on some opportunities where it is best for you to take the shot. Missing out on these easy buckets lead Chiozza to take a lot of tougher shots in the end, and last season’s 41.1% was not glamorous, though it was an improvement over his first two years where he was under 40%. His pass first attitude is fantastic and a lot of good things come from it, but confidently taking good shots in the flow of the offense will really help the Gators.

Though I just pointed out some negative aspects from last season, obviously no team is perfect and these were just small detriments on what was a hugely successful team. I don’t point these things out to be a downer, just as an interesting look to see what the team improved on in their attempt to make another deep Tournament run in March.

Do you think the team has some things they need to improve on from last year? Leave a comment or post on the Gator Country forums.

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Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.