Florida fans watched their televisions with bated breathe on Tuesday night as they anxiously awaited for the victor between St. Bonaventure and UCLA with the winner going on to face the Gators in Dallas. It was the Bonnies that outlasted the Bruins by the score of 65-58 and now the Gators can set their sights on one of the gems from the Atlantic 10 conference. Potentially rusty from their time off leading into Thursday’s contest the Gators will have to find a way to match the intensity of a St. Bonaventure team that has already tasted NCAA Tournament victory this week.
Here is what you need to know about the Bonnies, what we can take away from their win against UCLA, and what the Gators need to do to be victorious in the round of 64.
The Gators played St. Bonaventure last year in the non-conference portion of the season and only narrowly came away with a 73-66 win. That team boasted Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley who are still prominent features on the roster so the Gators won’t be totally unfamiliar with them.
The Bonnies do not boast a lot of size and regularly utilize lineups with no one over 6’6”. Size has given the Gators enough problems this season to make any semblance of height intimidating to fans and you should know the Bonnies aren’t a team that’s going to dominate you inside. Very talented on the perimeter, this should be an interesting matchup against the Gators who play the game the same way.
Now, some takeaways from St. Bonaventure’s win over UCLA in the play-in game.
Jaylen Adams, usually the best player for the Bonnies, was completely limited against the Bruins as he shot a dismal 2-16 from the field. Constantly forcing up difficult shots at ill-advised times he not only made the game difficult for himself but wasted his team’s valuable offensive possessions. His difficulties weren’t made any easier by the fact his backcourt mate Matt Mobley, another elite scorer, also was ineffective going 4-12 from the field. With their best players struggling the St. Bonaventure offense looked out of sorts and they ended up shooting 38.3%, a number that doesn’t normally win you many games. The Gators can be happy knowing that the Bonnies’ best players aren’t coming into Dallas with any established rhythm. However…
While the normal leaders struggled, junior Courtney Stockard stepped up and had an incredible game scoring 26 points, adding 4 steals, and playing the entire 40 minutes of the game. Another perimeter player, the Gators could have their hands full if Stockard has another great game and Adams and Mobley decide to show up. Stockard was also playing great basketball in the A-10 tournament meaning he’s on a personal hot streak, one the Gators will have to try to stop.
Now, let’s take a deeper look into how the Bonnies play and how the Gators can beat them.
In The Zone
Without any major size the Bonnies often turn to a zone defense to try to protect the paint. The two major zones they use are a 2-3 and a 1-3-1, the latter of which we saw them use to completely neutralize a potent UCLA offense. Both zones are not of the passive variety where they let their opponents move the ball around the perimeter but are of the aggressive, trapping variety where they look to make ball handlers uncomfortable. Many shorter zone teams use the more aggressive style of zone because they don’t have length to deter passes should they allow the offense time to look at angles and lanes. St. Bonaventure is able to create a lot of turnovers out of this defense and it was evidenced against UCLA when they forced a whopping 20 turnovers, 10 of which that came from star guard Aaron Holiday.
Will they try to zone against Florida? Florida does a great job of protecting the basketball (6th in the nation in turnover percentage) and though many Gator fans hate the slow paced zone offense the team often employs the numbers actually show they score more efficiently against zone than man defense. Here are the numbers.
Points Per Possession:
Versus Man: 0.911
Versus Zone: 1.009
Field Goal Percentage:
Versus Man: 41.4%
Versus Zone: 44.1%
Affective Field Goal Percentage (Accounting for increased difficulty and reward of the three-point shot)
Versus Man: 48%
Versus Zone: 56.1%
It’s obviously not a massive difference but it shows that the Gators aren’t a team vulnerable to being locked down by a zone. If the Gators do see a zone I would expect to see Keith Stone parked in the high post where he can get the ball and square up, forcing the defense to collapse so he can find an open man or knocking down the mid-range jump shot.
Speeding It Up
Once again playing on their guard-heavy lineup the Bonnies are looking to speed the game up as much as possible and get as many buckets in transition as the other team will allow. Playing the 44th fastest tempo on offense they will match up very interestingly with the Gators who have forced their opponents to play the 334th fastest possessions in the country. 17.2% of St. Bonaventure’s shots come in transition and they hit them at an outstanding rate (56.1%) so if the Gators are able to force them to slow down their offense will look a lot different, going to a ball screen heavy offense to try to get their ball handlers going towards the hoop.
Interestingly enough, though the Bonnies are a top 40 team in transition offense, they are the 4th worst transition defense team in the country allowing their opponents to shoot 61% from the field. I’d say the Gators need to capitalize on this but the Gators really haven’t been that great of a transition team this year, instead electing to pull the ball out and run half court offense. However, knowing how bad the Bonnies are in transition defense and knowing the smaller Bonnies won’t be offensive rebounding very often the Gators could look to push after every defensive rebound. St. Bonaventure also does a good job holding onto the ball but the Gators are still even better at forcing turnovers so that could lead to easy transition baskets too.
Whoever dictates the pace often wins basketball games and who is able to dictate the pace between these two teams will be an interesting storyline to watch for you basketball diehards.
When the Bonnies run in transition or attack in the half court even when they are getting into the paint they often aren’t looking to finish at the rim, they’re looking to kick the ball out to shooters. A team that struggles to make shots at the rim (hey Gator fans, it’s not just our team!) they try to forego as many tough layups as they can and instead kick the ball out to shooters who are solid at converting from deep. Shooting 39.3% from three as a team this one of the truly elite shooting teams in college basketball lead by Jaylen Adams (45.7%) and Matt Mobley (38.3%). The Gators have to know their personnel and know when dribble penetration happens they don’t have to over help and leave shooters wide open. Kevarrius Hayes has been a great shot blocker and the Bonnies don’t have a great big man for ball handlers to dump the ball into so I think the team needs to trust in Hayes to protect the rim so that everyone else can stay at home on perimeter shooters. They need to make the Bonnies beat them with twos and not threes.
Depth, Or Lack There Of
I thought the Gators rode their starters hard, but then I saw the Bonnies. Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley have both averaged over 37 minutes per game this year (yikes) and as I mentioned earlier, Courtney Stockard played the entire game against UCLA. They also really only go 7 deep, so with all those factors involved if the Gators are aggressive early and get the Bonnies in foul trouble then Florida could be rolling.
Keith Stone was fantastic in the Gators’ SEC Tournament loss to Arkansas and if he is hot again then the Bonnies will be in serious trouble with no capable size or athletes to deal with him. Though he doesn’t need to provide a lot of points I’d love to see Kevarrius Hayes active in this one. If he can protect the rim on drives then perimeter players won’t have to help as much and leave shooters and that would really hurt St. Bonaventure’s defense. Additionally, Hayes should be able to really control the glass and maybe even draw a foul or two from a key Bonnie as they try to keep him off of the offensive glass. Florida’s perimeter players will also have to be good, of course, as St. Bonaventure’s three best players (by a long shot) are all perimeter players. Though Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley were both cold against UCLA I can’t imagine them staying down for long so the Gators will have to be prepared to slow them down.
With St. Bonaventure lacking size, I’m curious to see how the Gators deploy their lineups. They could play Kevarrius Hayes, Dontay Bassett, and Gorjok Gak at the center spot to keep Keith Stone at power forward to create mismatches, or could play smaller with Stone at center and Egor Koulechov at power forward knowing they won’t be able to pound them inside. Many possibilities for them.
Keys For The Gators
Figuring out St. Bonaventure’s zone if they end up playing it. That zone was the reason UCLA lost and though I think the Gators are better equipped to handle it it’s still something they’ll need to be ready for. Florida’s perimeter players are also going to have to be ready to compete defensively as the Bonnies’ trio of guards are extremely flammable and could go off at any moment.
When it comes down to it, these are two teams that pride themselves on guard play and whoever can win that matchup will likely win the game.