After dispatching the Stanford Cardinal with relative ease, the Gators will now take on Gonzaga University. The Bulldogs earned this matchup by soundly thumping Ohio State 86-59 in their quarterfinal game. Coming off a national title game appearance last season, the #17 ranked Bulldogs have become a national brand and a win for the Gators would give them a great piece of accomplishment for their resume come Selection Sunday in March. After coming so close to a National Championship, Gonzaga is looking to string together successful seasons and get a win against the #7 Gators on a “neutral floor” (with Portland being so close to Spokane, I’m assuming this game will feel a whole lot like a home game for the Bulldogs) would help rocket them up the AP Poll. Florida lost to Gonzaga in a heartbreaker last season 77-72 (Florida had a lead for much of this game, at one point winning by 10) so a win would bring upon a sweet bit of revenge. This is sure to be an outstanding game, so let’s take a look at the scouting report for Gonzaga.
Season to Date
Gonzaga, like Florida, currently sits at 4-0. Their wins came over Ohio State, Texas Southern, Howard, and a sneaky good Utah State team. Their schedule so far seems shockingly similar to the Gators, playing three mid-major teams leading up to this tournament where they both took on a mid-level major conference team to get them to this point. It is both teams first opportunities for a marquee win, so be ready for a hotly contested game.
Spreading the Wealth
Normally I would spotlight a team’s best player here, but instead I have to point out how balanced the scoring is for the Bulldogs. They currently have five players averaging double figures with a 6th coming in right behind at 9.7 PPG (Rui Hachimura) so you can tell they play unselfishly and spread the ball around. The players averaging double figures are Josh Perkins (13.3 PPG), Killian Tillie (12.3 PPG), Silas Melson (11.7 PPG), Corey Kispert (11.7 PPG), and Johnathan Williams (11.0 PPG). Take a look at those numbers again, it’s actually pretty impressive. Having that many balanced scorers can make game planning difficult, so seeing what the Gators key in on defensively to try to shut them down will be interesting.
As you could probably guess after seeing all the players that average double figures in scoring, Gonzaga is a very good offensive squad. They are currently 15th in the country in offensive efficiency, and they are 18th in effective field goal percentage. Disciplined in their offensive attack, they really spread the ball out and attempt to find the weakness, whether a player or a scheme, in the defense that they can attack and exploit. Not relying heavily on one specific play type, 24.4% of their shots are spot up jumpers in the half court, 20.3% are transition looks, and 10.9% are shots from the post. Guarding spot up jump shots has been one of the weak points of the Gators’ defense, as they have given up 0.98 points per possession on these looks. Playing small has left them without a lot of length to contest shooters, and opponents have been able to capitalize at a decent rate. The Gators are one of the best transition teams in the country in both limiting opportunities and defending them so that is one area where Gonzaga should struggle. Gonzaga also takes great care of the ball, only turning it over on 15% of their possessions (good for 31st in the country) so we’ll see how that matches up against the Gators’ 35th ranked steals percentage. In a tight game extra possessions can be the difference so how Gonzaga protects the ball against a feisty Gators defense will be something to watch. We saw the Gators play some 1-3-1 zone against Stanford and I could see them using it again to clog up the paint and not allow post up opportunities for the talented Gonzaga big men. The Bulldogs are very strong offensively and this will be a chance to see what the Gators’ defense is really made of.
While they might get the most attention for scoring, the Bulldog’s defense might be just as good. They rank 22nd nationally in defensive efficiency, utilizing their great size and length with players like Killian Tillie (6’10” 200), Johnathan Williams (6’9, 230) and Rui Hachimura (6’8”, 225) while having an intelligent guard in junior Josh Perkins spearheading the point of attack. Gonzaga’s general defensive philosophy is to pack the paint, slow you down, and not allow easy buckets. They have kept their opponents to the 262nd slowest average possessions in the country, and limited them to a bafflingly low 37.3% when shooting 2-point attempts. This will actually be a pretty interesting matchup against the Gators who will be looking to get threes up by the truckload. Gonzaga is willing to give up jump shots to not allow points inside, so if the Gators are as hot from behind the arc as they were against Stanford they could feast. That is, of course, unless Gonzaga wants to change their philosophy to try to limit three point shooting attempts. The Gators haven’t had a great interior presence offensively to this point, so Gonzaga could spread out their defense a little bit more to try and pressure shooters knowing that the Gators are not well equipped to exploit them on the interior. The low risk defensive philosophy of the Bulldogs also means that they don’t generate many turnovers (they are 288th in the country in turnover percentage) and the Gators don’t turn the ball over very much as it is (they are 3rd nationally in turnover percentage). Not having to worry about aggressive defense means the Gators could get very comfortable setting up offensively which could be bad news if you’re a Gonzaga fan. With the Gators coming off a hot shooting night and with there being such an interesting contrast between the Gators’ offensive philosophy and the Bulldog’s defensive philosophy, that end of the floor will be one of the most interesting battle grounds of this game.
Gators Keys to the Game
Figuring out Gonzaga’s attack and making the necessary adjustments. Their offense is their most intimidating trait, and if Gonzaga gets to whipping the ball around the perimeter without any resistance than Mike White might lose all his hair and the Gators could have a tough time winning this game. Kevarrius Hayes has been outstanding defensively up to this point, and after being suspended against Stanford he should be hungry to get back into game action and want to make his presence felt. He’ll have his hands full between Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams, but if he can continue to get the blocks and steals that he got in the first three games of the season he will be a massive difference maker. Offensively, taking good shots and not the shots Gonzaga wants Florida to take will be the difference between a great and a frustrating evening for the Gators. The Bulldogs play the kind of defense that always makes you feel that a good shot is available, but then there is a hand in your face the moment you go to pull the trigger. They try to lull you to sleep by not ratcheting up pressure and subtly lure you into taking a low percentage shot. The veteran guards like Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen have to be disciplined and intelligent in how they get the team into offense and make sure they don’t bail out the defense with questionable shots. Like I mentioned earlier, Gonzaga will give up jump shots so if they fall like they did against Stanford then the Gators will be in good shape, but if they aren’t then they need to find other ways to generate scoring.
Gator fans have been itching to play an opponent of Gonzaga’s caliber, and this is a perfect setting to take them on. Be sure to check out the Gator Country forums before, during, and after the game to get in some great Gator basketball talk.