Donovan: "We Were Anything But Great"

Nobody would blame Billy Donovan if he were gloating a bit right now. After all, his Florida Gators were supposed to go up to New York last week, take a couple of beatings against ranked teams and use the lessons learned as a springboard to success later in the season. However, someone from central casting tore up that script and replaced it with one that had the Gators coming out of nowhere to win the 2K Sports Coaches Vs. Cancer Tournament.


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So instead of a young team that starts four sophomores humbled but hungry in this week that they must prepare to face arch-rival Florida State (Friday at the O'Connell Center), the Gators have to come back down to earth quickly. They are a surprising 4-0 and an improbably ranked fourteenth in the country, something none of the experts saw coming. Florida began the season unranked and most of the preseason magazines say the Gators are borderline to get into the NCAA Tournament for the eighth straight year.

Those perceptions have changed dramatically since Florida beat number 16 Syracuse and number 18 Wake Forest in the two games in New York. Donovan knows what the perceptions of others are. What he's most concerned with at this point is making sure his team doesn't get caught up in early season success and new found rankings.

To jolt the new darlings of the early season of college basketball back into the real world, Donovan was going to expose them to the cold hard truth Monday afternoon at practice. The truth, for the Florida coach, is game film and game film, he will tell you, doesn't lie. The results may look glossy and wins are great to come by, especially when you beat a ranked team from the Atlantic Coast Conference and a ranked team from the Big East on back to back nights, but final results often disguise the truth.

"Although the wins are great and they look great, if you go in and look at the film it was not a stellar performance in either game for us," said Donovan on Monday, noting that the Gators were outrebounded in both games in New York, turned the ball over more than their opponents and they shot only 57 percent from the foul line.

So how did they do it? Just how did the Gators win two games with so many negatives?

Donovan attributes Florida's surprising run to the tournament title to superior shooting and perhaps superior early season conditioning. For the four games so far, the Gators are hitting 52.4 percent from the field. In the two wins in New York, Florida got 23 points in each game in New York from point guard Taurean Green, the tournament's most valuable player, and long range bomber Lee Humphrey knocked down seven three-pointers. Those two have combined for 29-55 from beyond the arc in the four games so far with Humphrey hitting 16-30 and Green 13-25.

"We won up there in my opinion because maybe those teams early in the year got a little bit tired and we shot the ball well," said Donovan. "We can't depend on Taurean and LH to shoot the ball the way they did."

Because it's early in the season, Donovan knows that there will be peaks and valleys with the shooting from the outside so when Florida is not knocking down the outside shot, the Gators are going to have to play defense, rebound and continue to run the floor to force teams to play up tempo.

"To me there were a lot of things were glaring that we've got to improve and get better," said Donovan. "I really felt that the reason we won was because we really made shots but what's going to happen when we're not shooting the ball well or we have that game? I think that several years ago when we had Walsh, Roberson and David Lee and we didn't give ourselves a chance to win.

"If we didn't shoot the ball in New York with what we did from the free throw line and what we did turning the basketball over and what we did giving up from the three point line what we gave up, we have no chance to win so we have a lot of things that we have to get better at."

Getting better will begin with a long hard look at game film of the two games in New York. Donovan said that he won't be critical individually as much as he will be critical of the team, pointing out what could have been done better. He's hoping that the team will take the criticisms to heart and use them as a stepping stone to a better performance Friday night against a Florida State team that he says is as talented as any team the Gators will play this year.

"Hopefully when these guys watch film they'll understand what the truth is because I really believe the film doesn't lie," he said. "Sometimes stats can be misleading. You can watch film, you watch us defend, you watch us rebound, you watch us screen … things that we're not very good right now, we're just not but that's the reality of it and our guys need to see that right now.

"Although the wins are exciting and they came against two ranked teams, it's the middle of November and we have a lot of work ahead of us. I think that the perception of the way we played was overshadowed by we shot the ball well. I think sometimes people look at when you shoot the way you did you played great. We were anything but great."

The film will indeed show how Florida wore down both Wake Forest and Syracuse with their full court, push the ball every chance offense and a pressing style on defense reminiscent of the press till they puke days of the 2000 season.

"I think that what won out was our style of play," Donovan said. "I think the game got going up and down and I thought teams maybe got tired."

Florida was also helped by the fact the Gators were able to avoid serious foul trouble with their big men. Florida shot 22 more free throws than the two opponents in New York largely because the big guys were able to pound it inside offensively and defensively, they held their ground inside without committing silly fouls.

Starters Al Horford (6-9) and Joakim Noah (6-11) are scoring double figures (Horford 10.3 and Noah 11.0) through four games and Chris Richard (6-8) is averaging 9.5 off the bench. The fourth big guy, Adrian Moss (6-9), gave the Gators the lift off the bench against Wake Forest with an eight point, eight rebound performance that was one of the best games of his Florida career.

The play of the big men, getting to the foul line, forcing the up tempo style and knocking down threes --- all those things contributed to the victory, but Donovan still sees the wins as incomplete because the Gators could have played so much better in nearly every phase of the game. So he'll have the team watching film between now and Friday, pointing out what they could do to improve and then there will be a major effort to correct the flaws on the practice floor.

"Bottom line with me is I'm just going to be truthful with them and then we'll show them the film," said Donovan. "Sometimes you make a mistake when you worry about hurting their feelings. The reality is what's on film. You look at the film. You tell me what you think."

GATOR HOOPS NOTES: Richard and Green are Florida's top two free throw shooters and neither one is even close to 70 percent, which is the line that separates good and below average. Richard is hitting 67 percent (10-15) while Green is hitting 63.2 percent (12-19) … The Gators have made more free throws (58) than opponents have attempted (56). On the season Florida is 58-101 for 57.4 percent … Green has a better than two to one assist to turnover ratio with 21 assists and only nine turnovers. Donovan is not happy with the team's assist to turnovers, though, which is 75-58 … Defensively, the Gators are averaging four blocked shots and nine steals per game while forcing 73 opponent turnovers … Richard, Horford and Noah are a combined 47-61 from the field. Richard is 14-16 for 87.5 per cent, while Horford is 14-18 for 77.8 percent and Noah is 19-27 for 70.4 percent … Horford has been to the foul line 22 times, best on the team.


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