Contrast of Style Poses Challenge for Gators

Florida wants to run. It's hard to think of a year when that characteristic didn't apply to Billy Donovan's Gators. It will be tested on Friday. The No. 7 seed Gators start their NCAA Tournament schedule with a matchup against No. 10 seed Virginia. While Florida try to run up and down the court, the Cavaliers will be trying to slow things down. Virginia's tough defense is the backbone of the team.

"There's no question that is a real strength of their team – how well they defend, how they help each other, the pressure they apply on the ball," Donovan said. "The way they try to eliminate and take away at the basket, whether it is through post traps or incredible help in the lane they try to eliminate and take away a lot of easy baskets. That is something that they really focus on. If you look at their team throughout the course of the year, they are certainly a very sound defensive team."

Virginia is second in the country in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score just 53.7 points per game. They have the tenth best three-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 29.5% from long range. All of that comes after playing the tough ACC schedule.

The Cavaliers are disciplined on defense and stay in position. Donovan pointed to the fact that Florida has played tough defensive teams like Alabama and Kentucky, who both rank in the top 12 in scoring defense.

Virginia's defensive success doesn't come from attacking with a press or being aggressive in the half court. They force 12.9 turnovers a game, but they're sound and always in position. That sets Erving Walker up to determine the fate of the Florida offense on Friday.

"I think that there are situations in playing against in any defense that you have to recognize and understand where help is coming from," Donovan said. "You have to make good decisions when the ball is in your hands. I think that is for anybody, and I would say that with Erving Walker being the point guard that is every game in which he would need to do in his job, his responsibility and his role.

"I don't think that it is going to be anything different for Erving in terms of initiating and starting the offense, but if they do a great job of getting into gaps, if they do a great job of getting deflections and coming up with steals, you have to understand how the floor is spaced. You have to make good decisions."

The Gators have done a good job of that so far this season. Florida is 18th in the country with just 10.9 turnovers per game. For a high paced team that likes to get up and down the floor, Donovan is happy with the way his team has protected the ball.

The biggest threat on the Virginia offense is big man Mike Scott, who is averaging 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds. Donovan said Scott would be "one of the better players in the SEC and clearly is one of the best players in the ACC." His experience helps the team, but there isn't a player on Virginia that has played in an NCAA Tournament game.

The closest comparison Donovan could come up with for Scott is Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie. He said Moultrie's ability to get some points at the free throw line, some on post ups, some on jump shots and some on drives have his opponent looking at the scoreboard and "before you know it, the guy is getting 18 and 10 (rebounds).

Scott's versatility makes him difficult to prepare for.

"He is a consummate scorer because he can do it on the offensive glass—he can do it from the post, he can do it from stepping away from the basket and shooting it, and also he can do it off the dribble," Donovan said. "He is really a handful. He gets about 18 or 19 (points) a game. He gets eight or nine rebounds a game. There is not necessarily one way in which he does it."

The Cavaliers are smart with the ball and are 28th in the country by turning the ball over 11.4 times. They get the most out of offensive possessions and don't give the ball away.

"Sometimes it can be difficult when a team is really disciplined with the ball and doesn't turn it over," Walker said. "We want to hopefully probably press and keep pushing the pace and get the game going our way."

Florida's newfound offensive identity came against Kentucky, when the Gators sprinted the ball up the court and found success against a Wildcats defense that routinely suffocated its opponent all year. Without Will Yeguete and less depth in the frontcourt, the Gators will need to push the ball up the court before the Virginia defense can get set.

"They do a great job of protecting the paint and do a great job of taking away easy baskets," Donovan said. "I think that we're a team that tries to impose our will. I don't know necessarily if all the sudden the game gets slowed and they get control of the pace if I feel like, ‘oh my gosh, we can't win the game right now.'"

The winner of Friday's game will face the winner of No. 2 seed Missouri and No. 15 seed Norfolk State on Sunday.

Fightin Gators Top Stories