Bracket Briefing: 10 reasons Florida is so unstoppable
April 1, 2014 § Leave a comment
After three consecutive Elite Eight appearances, Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators are finally Final Four-bound.
The NCAA tournament’s top overall seed has undoubtedly been playing up to that caliber. But is this team invincible? Thirty consecutive wins tells one side of the story. A top-heavy SEC slate and a seemingly easy path to Arlington tells the other.
Whichever way you look at it, Florida has been dominant. Here’s a look at the ingredients that go into the Gators’ championship recipe.
1. The seniors: The Gators’ veteran presence has been felt throughout the season in pivotal stretches … the times when younger, less experienced teams tend to falter. That maturity factor leads to mental toughness, which takes time to develop, and gives Florida an edge against teams with arguably better talent. It also leads to a togetherness that fosters a great culture for newcomers.
2. Billy Donovan: He led Florida to back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. That’s when he had a cast of future NBA players. That’s not the case with this team. Donovan has gotten the best out the players on his team. “We don’t have the best players in the country,” Florida assistant John Pelphrey told USA TODAY Sports. “They play like they are the best players in the country. That’s because of Billy.”
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3. Scottie Wilbekin: One criticism heading into the season was the lack of a star player who could put the team on his back. Wilbekin surprisingly filled that void after a troubled offseason, and the Gators haven’t missed a beat since the senior point guard’s return after missing the first five games. Wilbekin isn’t necessarily the team’s best scorer, but his ability to facilitate and do so without forcing it drives Florida offensively. The ultimate sign of maturity for Wilbekin: He plays well when he needs to. He’s not trying to play outside his ability. That’s a testament to Florida’s depth and his own basketball IQ. He was the SEC Player of the Year because Florida simply wouldn’t be the team it is without him.
4. Patric Young: If there’s a player as valuable to Florida winning outside of Wilbekin, it’s undoubtedly Young, who was a key part of Florida’s dominance on offense and defense vs. Dayton. The Gators outscored the Flyers by 20 points in 31 minutes with Young on the court. And the big man is a vocal leader, injecting life with his effervescent personality.
5. Depth: Strength in numbers is a crucial ingredient for a championship team, and Florida has it. Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill and Chris Walker provide ample explosiveness off the bench. Additionally, this is a smart group of players that rarely becomes plagued by foul trouble.
6. Unselfishness: Even though Wilbekin is the star, he’s one of several offensive weapons. That’s perhaps what makes Florida so dangerous: They don’t depend on one player. Multiple guys can fill it up, and a different player can step up each night.
7. Defense: Florida’s stifling defense limits penetration to such an extent sometimes that opponents fall into lulls because their offense becomes so stagnant. Good defenses can limit teams from scoring. Great defenses can dictate the tempo of a game. The Gators rank third in scoring defense and 24th in field goal percentage defense. Florida was so taut on the defensive end against UCLA it held one of the nation’s best passing offenses to three assists, seven turnovers and .90 points per trip in the first half. Florida’s press defense disrupted Dayton’s offense at a remarkable rate. The Flyers were held to 18% shooting from the field on possessions that started with a full-court press
8. Rebounding: The Gators rank 26th nationally in rebounding margin. Florida outrebounded Dayton by 11, but it’s the loose balls and second-chance points that make the Gators so strong. Florida finished with 13 second-chance points, while Dayton had just 1.
9. Inspired hunger: After finishing the regular season 18-0 in the SEC en route to another conference championship, Florida held up signs that read, “18-0 and more to go.” Donovan knows how to keep his team ready and play with the tenacity and grit needed to destroy any chance of complacency.
10. Swagger: The Gators have been quite businesslike on their winning streak, but they’ve also shown great confidence. But, you can sense they’re enjoying the ride. Teams that have fun are fun to watch. That was proved during Florida’s title runs in 2006 and 2007. This team provides a similar vibe.