Transition Defense A Key Moving Forward For Gators Basketball

Under Mike White the Gators have been a team build on a culture of defense. The result of White’s strict defensive philosophies has been a top-25 finishes in adjusted defensive efficiency every year he has led the program showing his ability to get just about anyone to compete and be successful on Florida’s side of the court.

This season has been a bit of a different story. The Gators have been good defensively, but not great. Currently sitting at 35th in adjusted defensive efficiency they’re in a different place then they’re used to being at and I’m sure it’s something the team will be looking to improve on.

The drop-off in defensive prowess from last year could be attributed to a few factors. First, the Gators lost an elite defender in Kevarrius Hayes to graduation. Hayes was a versatile and switchable defender who was one of the best shot blockers in Gators’ history and the player now in his position, Kerry Blackshear, doesn’t have the same physical gifts and defensive anticipation Hayes possessed. KeVaughn Allen is another quality defender that was lost due to graduation and his loss had to have some impact defensively.

To find out where Florida has been deficient on the defensive end you can look at the numbers and in doing so, a clear issue is seen.

When it comes to basketball there are two different elements of the game, transition and half court. Transition is basketball played on the run when teams are changing ends and half court basketball is when things slow and athletes play from 30 feet and in.

In the half court the Gators have been fantastic defensively. They’re only allowing opponents to shoot 38.2% from the field which amounts to 0.787 points per possession, a solid mark that puts them in the 77th percentile nationally.

Well, I think you know what I’m about to tell you next.

They haven’t been great with transition defense.

While they’ve been locking it down in the half court they haven’t been nearly as good in transition allowing 45.3% shooting from the field and 1.033 points per possession, putting them in the 22nd percentile nationally and well below the average team.

It’s worth noting that every team shoots better in transition as it’s simply an easier way to score than going up against a set defense in the half court. For that reason, the difference between the 0.787 PPP in the half court and 1.033 PPP in transition will never be brought to an equal number, but the ranks nationally show just where the Gators are excelling defensively and where they aren’t doing so hot.

In their half court defense the Gators are doing a great job of defending the ball, not allowing too much penetration or too many straight line drives. If the ball does get into the paint they are helping out to protect the rim and when it’s kicked out they are closing out to shooters and making three-point shooting difficult.

In transition, they aren’t showing the same qualities. They’ve had trouble picking up ball handlers which has made for panicked defensive sequences when players all scramble to the rim only for the ball to be kicked out to an open shooter. Not only has this made for more points allowed but the Gators are picking up more fouls in transition than the half court putting their best players in foul trouble and sending them to the bench.

Almost always teams turn the ball over more in transition than in the half court due to the difficulty of making dribble moves and passes when on the run. Surprisingly, Florida is hardly forcing turnovers in transition. While the Gators force turnovers 17.1% of possessions in the half court they only force 9.3% in transition, a number that honestly seems, well, backwards.

The lack of turnovers forced in transition shows they aren’t making things difficult enough for their opponents trying to run. Going back to the film you can see Florida hasn’t been able to locate ball handlers in transition quickly enough and when they have they haven’t communicated it well to their teammates. On plays where they haven’t communicated well enough the Gators are all running back towards their own hoop to protect the paint and that has made for open shooters while two or more Gators collapse onto the ball handler.

This is a young team and these mistakes in transition defense are to be expected but it’s something they’ll have to clean up moving forward. Plenty of teams in the SEC rely on running in transition (we just saw two of them in Alabama and South Carolina) and if they don’t clean up their transition defense they could be in trouble. Alabama picking on the Gators in transition almost came away with a win and there could be more scares on the way if Florida doesn’t improve in that area.

One way the Gators can help their transition defense is to attack the offensive boards like they did against South Carolina. By sending multiple bodies to the glass the other team can’t have guards leaking out looking for outlet passes, they need to fall back to help on the defensive boards. South Carolina, a team that wants to run whenever they get the ball, had their transition attack neutralized by Omar Payne and Scottie Lewis working tirelessly on the glass and when Florida has players doing that it will take a lot of pressure off their transition defense.

For Florida to get back to top-25 defensive form they need to limit their opposition to half court attempts. The numbers show how much better the Gators are defensively when they just have to defend in the half court and if they can take away transition attempts from their opponents their defense is going to look a lot better. Mike White has always been a great teacher of defense and this team has the athletes to lock down defensively and it could be only a matter of time before their defense comes together and looks elite.

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.