VETTEL: Spiderman, Big Al Make Mark On Defense

Back in December I gave freshman Corey Brewer the nickname "Spiderman" because of the remarkable quickness and length he has and the innate ability to deny passing lanes and create turnovers. Brewer had eleven steals in his first three games and has led Florida in that category from the start of the season. Now entering the NCAA Tournament, Brewer and fellow freshman starter Al Horford are getting a tremendous amount of credit for the improvement in the Gator defense from last year.

The numbers are dramatic. Florida is allowing 6.6 fewer points a game this year and is forcing almost two more turnovers per game. In the current seven-game winning streak, Florida's defense has been nothing short of sensational, holding opponents to 56.4 points per game. The last seven Gator opponents have shot a collective 38 percent from the field and an anemic 27 percent from three-point range. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider four of the games were against NCAA-bound teams and two against teams that made the NIT.

Brewer's play has impressed everyone from the media to opponents, to his teammates. And no one is more impressed than Florida's lone senior David Lee.

"Corey's done a great job all year," said Lee. "He's been our lockdown defender. He's made a lot of hustle plays and he's tremendous in transition for us. His energy on defense I'll tell you has changed the perimeter defense of our entire team. I think if you asked Peep (Roberson) and Matt (Walsh) they'd tell you he's inspired them to work harder on defense watching Corey."

As for Brewer, he'll use anything to slow down an opponent. His speed, long arms, instincts… or a little trash talk. "I try to get into people's heads", Brewer told me. "I try anything I can to get an advantage."

Brewer + Horford = Dramatic Improvement

Along with Brewer's perimeter efforts, Florida's defense is much better because of the development of Al Horford in the low post. Horford's 6.7 rebounds a game has helped Florida go from a team which barely outrebounded opponents last year (by less than 1 rebound per game) to a rebounding force which grabs 6.4 more boards each time out.

Horford says he knew from day one that end of the floor would be his and Brewer's top priority.

"That's one of our focuses," said the 6-8, 245-pound center. "I mean we know we need to defend in order to win. We just want to come in and help on defense as much as we can."

Horford has blocked 49 shots this year, helping the Gators improve by almost 50 percent in that category as well.

"I enjoy playing defense", Horford said, "Personally, I love blocking shots and stuff like that."

Brewer says he knows most Gator fans are surprised the two newcomers have made such an impression right away. "When we first got here nobody thought we would have that big an impact because we already had the big three". Brewer continued, "And we had a few guys back who played significant minutes last year. But Coach just said we'd have a chance to play and we've made the most of it."

Brewer likes the fact each freshman has his own area of expertise.

"Al comes in and bring the shot-blocking presence and does all the little things and gets all the rebounds", Brewer said. "I just do what I can on the perimeter and play the best perimeter player."

Donovan On His Freshmen Of Impact

Said the Coach:

"I think our freshmen are a little bit different and they understand what their role is and they are going to be more recipients from a David Lee or Anthony Roberson or Matt Walsh scoring-wise. I don't think that changed Corey's mindset at all after he scored some points (17) against Mississippi State. I think our older guys have done a good job providing some leadership for him and keeping him focused on what he needs to do. But our freshmen are pretty mature mentally in terms of what their role is and what they need to do to help our team. I think the younger guys have benefited from some of the attention a Walsh or Roberson or Lee gets that they've been able to fit in and do some things for us.

Sometimes when a kid comes in and they do something really well or they do something special or they have a big game I think sometimes people feel like that's going to be the norm, that's the way they should play all the time. But when you're dealing with young kids there are a lot of emotional roller coasters they go through a lot of ups and downs they go through. I think for Al, maybe getting in some foul trouble early on during the season and then having to get himself re-focused and keep himself in the game was a challenge he had to overcome as a player.

Unless a guy is so talented like a Mike Miller or Donnell Harvey that they can just go out there and be talented at any level, most of those guys will go through a lot of challenges and difficulties to get where they need to go."

You Are What Your Record Is

Football coach Bill Parcells is credited with the simple line, "you are what your record says you are." The point is to put all excuses about scheduling, injuries, bad calls and the like off to the side and acknowledge your results.

Well in college basketball you are what your NCAA record says you are. But that's where things get debatable. If you look at Florida as one of the eleven schools to qualify for each of the last seven NCAA tournaments, then the Gators are clearly placed among the nation's elite. If, however you look at recent tournament play, Florida's 2-4 record and failure to advance past the second round in four years paints a less attractive picture.

It's definitely one of those half-full/half-empty debates, so let me ask this question. Which of the following programs would you prefer?

A. Four years (74-49) -- NIT first round, NCAA Final Four, NCAA first round, losing season

--- OR ---

B. Four years (91-35) - NCAA 2nd round, NCAA 1st round, NCAA 2nd round, NCAA 1st round

Team A. had the greatest single success. Team B. had consistent excellence.

Team A. ---- The Florida Gators '93 - '96 (Kruger's last four years)

Team B. ---- The Florida Gators '01 - '04 (Donovan's last four years)

As much fun as 1994 was, I would take consistent success over fleeting excellence any day… what about you?

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Have a great week.

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