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More Florida Notes

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Let's continue with our discussion on the Gators. I am going to stay with our weekly routine of putting up our customary post gathering all the relevant notes on our next opponent. We already have been having some great discussions on the matchups and strategy in this much anticipated rematch.  BruinsRule mentioned yesterday how the teams in this Final-4 are statistically fairly even. No surprise this is a matchup between an elite defense v. an elite offense.  Per Ken Pom ratings Bruins have the number 2 defense in the nation (KU is number 1 in defense) while Gators are coming in with the number 2 offense (Georgetown has the best offense in the nation).

The easy narrative here is that the Gators are on a roll. They are marching into Atlanta on a mission to carve out their own history in the record books. The reality though is a little different. Florida actually had a fairly difficult time going through a bracket which was set up for a cruise control ride for the over all number 1 seed in the tournament. has this overview of the Gator's run through the tourney, which was not as easy as their last year's romp to and through Indianapolis:

But the Gators' return to the NCAA's Final Four -- the first defending national champion to make it back to that level since 2000 champ Michigan State returned the following season -- has been a much rockier road than the 2006 trip.

They had to hang on to beat Oregon in the Midwest Regional championship 85-77 after getting by Butler 65-57. They got to the Midwest semifinals with a 74-67 victory over Purdue.

Last year Florida won five of six tournament games by double digits. This year they have only one double-figure margin of victory -- the 112-69 rout of Jackson State in the first round. Even in that game the Gators led by only six points at halftime.
To their credit though the Gators are back. They have made it back despite having that proverbial bull's eye on their backs. So they deserve credit no matter what.

So let's take a look at Florida. If you haven't been living under a rock, you'd know Florida has all their starters back. But just for a quick reference here is a quick look at their player rotation courtesy of
PLAYER ROTATION Usual Starters -- F Joakim Noah, F Corey Brewer, C Al Horford, G Taurean Green, G Lee Humphrey. Key Subs -- F Chris Richard, F Dan Werner, F Marreese Speights, G Walter Hodge.
ESPN's Mark Schlabach in his Florida-UCLA preview has this on Florida's returning stars:
The Gators returned nearly intact from last season, after sophomores Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah each decided to return to school for at least one more season.

Florida lost only one player who saw action in last season's national championship game: reserve forward Adrian Moss, who scored nine points on 3-of-6 shooting in the 16-point victory over the Bruins. This season, senior Chris Richard and freshmen Marreese Speights and Dan Werner are playing more in Moss' absence.

Like a year ago, Florida still relies heavily on its five starters. The four aforementioned juniors and senior guard Lee Humphrey account for 78 percent of the Gators' scoring, 79 percent of their assists and 70 percent of their rebounding. Each of the five starters averages more than 10 points and 25 minutes; Richard and sophomore guard Walter Hodge are the only reserves who play more than 10 minutes per game.

"Noah and Horford are two great players," Howland said. "Both Horford and Noah down the road are future NBA players. They are the best tandem I can remember. I can't remember a tandem that good on any team. We are going to have our work cut out for us everywhere. They have no weaknesses. If you try to take away the inside, the outside kills you and vice versa. We're just going to have to do the best we can."
Sportsline again has more cliff notes on Florida's strengths and weaknesses:
Strengths: Ten straight postseason wins is a good place to start. With all five starters plus two key reserves (Richard and Walter Hodge) back from last year's NCAA championship team, the Gators have plenty of tournament experience. They shoot better than 50 percent from the field overall and better than 40 percent on 3s, they can dominate the boards and they are strong defenders. Horford and Noah are a devastating shot-blocking combination. Noah had a brilliant performance against UCLA in last year's title game, especially on defense.

Weaknesses: Florida foul shooting late in the regional final against Oregon deserves scrutiny. The late-game wobbles will be fatal should a recurrence hit against the glove-tight UCLA defense. The Gators developed a tendency of falling behind early in games late in the season and appeared flat at times in their first three NCAA Tournament games. They were able to overcome huge deficits playing at home late in the year, but the late wake-up call cost them at times on the road. They also averaged more than two turnovers a game more than their opponents in their 16 SEC games, and their shooting wasn't as sharp down the stretch. Any early deficit against the smothering defense of UCLA can turn into a loss at this stage of the tournament game.
So how can the Bruins can get an early lead or make sure to keep the game close at half time?

I think we are going to win this game by doing three things: (1) minimize our turnovers, (2) rebound well, and (3) bring our classic inside-the-jersey team defense (shocking I know).

I don't think we can afford to have another 25 TO game like the one we had last Saturday. It will be important for DC, Luc and co. to be a little stronger with the ball. In other words we are going to need to have better ball controlling than we showed against Kansas.  Our offense at times have really been masterful this season when we had excellent perimeter passing between AA, DC, and Shipp, as they were looking to pass the ball inside to our bigs.

I just don't think we can rely on the outside shooting of AA, Shipp and even Collison. Sure we got clutch shots from all three against the Jay Hawks, but there is no guarantee that those outside shots will be there again. So with that in mind I hope our perimeter guys are only launching their outside bombs when they are getting open looks within the flow of our offense. If the shot is not they have to look inside for Mata and Luc or have AA, Shipp, DC (or even Westbrook) slash to the rim taking closer shots or drawing fouls.

I actually feel a little bit better with Mata matching up against Horford than Ryan Hollins. Hollins was a more polished offensive threat and a good shot blocker. But I think Mata is a better over all defender and more physical around the rim than Hollins was last year. Same goes with AA2. AA2 when he is playing smart (not committing over eager fouls) can be a menacing presence down low. I think the combination of a healthy Mata and AA2, and more bulked up Luc give us a better presence around the post than we had last year against Florida. If we can keep those three out of foul trouble, I think we will have a chance neutralize Horford and Noah's commanding presence around the boards, and also put together a much better defensive stand than we did last year.

Speaking of defensive stand here are some thoughts going through my head in terms of our backcourt defense:

Taurean Green is the guy who initiates the Gator offense. He is their leading scorer and a very effective 3 point shooter (40 percent). So why not stick our best defender (AA) on Green and attempt to stifle the Gator offense from the get go? Why not stick AA on Green, just like Howland put him on Ubaka against Cal. The game in the Pac-10 tourney notwithstanding (which now looks like an aberration), AA's defense on Ubaka had a direct impact on shutting down the Cal offense. Obviously Florida's offense is at a whole different level, but I think there may be some consideration to that strategy. While AA can work on throttling Green, may be we can have 6'1 DC work on harassing 6'2 Humphrey? Humphrey is a deadly 3 point shooter. He killed the Ducks on Saturday. He killed us last year. I don't mind the idea of having DC blanketing Humphrey to make sure he doesn't get any open looks from the 3 point line.

That leaves us with Brewer. I don't mind Shipp guarding Brewer. Shipp still gives me heartburns whenever it looks like he is about to go Reggie Miller (well at least in his mind) on use. But I am loving how the kid has played D in our last 4 games. Shipp has definitely jacked up his defensive intensity to another level since his atrocious performance against Cal. If he can come in with the same defensive intensity and man up against Brewer, I think Bruins will be able to put some serious pressure around the perimeter.

Also another note on Shipp. Last year IIRC Florida had Humphrey guarding Ced. As much I love Ced, he wasn't able to get anything going, and at times at least on the offensive end Bruins were playing 4 on 5. I don't think Humphrey will be able to shut down Shipp like he did Ced. Shipp is more explosive and has better moves to the rim. Which goes back to the point I made above. If our perimeter guys can stay patient on offense, show better (and stronger) ball control, get some nice crisp passes going, and look to attack inside, I think the Bruins will get some good looks. It will be a matter of attacking the basket, finishing or drawing fouls.

If Howland can get some key minutes from Roll and Westbrook to supplement Shipp, DC, and AA, and make life extremely unpleasant for Bill's kids in the first half, then we will have a chance with our half time adjustments, conditioning, and defensive ferocity to step on the gas in the second half. Just like we did it against KU. Honestly when the Bruins fell down behind 21-27 against the Jayhawks, I was having some Gator nightmares from last year. But it was great to see our guys fight back, scrap and claw, and then turn it on defensively in the second half. If we can take that mentality from KU game and sustain it on Saturday we are going to have a great shot.

Gators are the defending champions. They have the bragging rights. Guess they can get away with running smack on the greatest ever to coach this game. I am glad Coach Howland, AA, and rest of our guys are being nothing but effusive in praising the Gators. However, there is absolutely no reason to fear Gators. We can respect them but there is no reason to fear.

If our Ben Ball warriors come out with the defensive fire in their eyes and stay cool and poised on offense they are going to be able to deliver a performance, which will make some "old dude" watching the game with some of his "old" players the proudest Bruin in the universe.

This one is going to be for the Coach.