Mark Wise's Game Plan To Beat Villanova

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota --- If you go strictly by common sense, then Florida's tall, athletic front line should have a field day against the Villanova Wildcats in Sunday afternoon's Minneapolis Region championship game (4 p.m., CBS TV) at the Metrodome. Common sense favors Florida, but the Wildcats have been defying logic all season long, winning with a short, four-guard lineup even against teams with towering front lines.

Villanova will likely start a lineup of one 6-7 forward and four guards, the tallest of which is 6-4 Randy Foye to go against Florida's lineup of 6-11 Joakim Noah, 6-9 Al Horford and 6-9 Corey Brewer. The advantage, it would seem, is all Florida's but it's not quite as simple as it looks says Mark Wise, the color analyst for the Florida radio network. Wise, who was an assistant coach to Lee Rose at Purdue back in the 1980s, says the Wildcats are unique and so good at what they do that they actually reverse the mismatch. Their success has been in their ability to impose their will on their opponents and that is exactly what the Gators have to avoid if they are to win this game and advance to the Final Four in Indianapolis next week.

"You look at them and you think a taller team would have the advantage, but it's not always like that because they have a lot of very quick, very athletic people with unique skills that do a lot of different things," said Wise, who believes the Gators will have to avoid critical turnovers, defend the three-point line and use their size advantage to force the Wildcats into foul trouble. "On offense they spread the floor and use the quickness of their guards to create shots off the dribble. They can put four guys out there who can create their own shot and they get into the paint and get to the foul line so well."

Teams that try to play the Wildcats man to man typically have to take some of their big people out of the game and replace them with guards and that means fighting the unconventional with a style that is both unconventional and usually quite uncomfortable. Going zone against Villanova is to invite the Wildcats to light it up from three-point land.

"If you let them jump up and shoot threes, then you're in for a long day," Wise said. "You can get by with a little bit of zone any time they take (Alan) Ray out."

Then there is the Villanova defense, so successful in creating turnovers and taking away half of the floor. It is Villanova's ability to cut the floor in half that triggers their defense.

"They do not allow you to reverse the floor," said Wise. "What they do is they cut the floor in half and they win their side. It's much easier to cover up their [lack of] size because you're not allowed the reverse the floor so their weakside help never changes.

"It's tight pressure on the ball with two guys and they're really good at that and they cut off your passing lane to reverse the ball and that allows the other three to use their quickness to pretty much do what they want to do. They're quick enough that even if you do throw the ball over to the other side [reverse it] that they can close out and then do the same thing on the other side."

In layman's terms, the Wildcats want to force the point guard to go one side or the other, then take away the passing lane back to the top of the key to prevent reversing the ball quickly to the other side of the floor to get an open shot. Their other three defenders try to play in front of their man, giving the impression that the ball can be lobbed over their heads, and giving them opportunities to break on the ball in the passing lanes. Teams that try to lob over the top are usually quite disappointed.

Wise said that Florida must do two things to counteract Villanova's defensive ploy.

"I think Florida would be smart to simplify the offense," said Wise. "They [Villanova] do a great job of taking a lot of things away that people like to do and if you try to pass the ball too much, essentially you play right into their hands. I think Florida needs to go with quick hitters … one or two passes and get the shot. Keep Lee Humphrey way spread on this wing and Corey Brewer way spread on that wing, run a pick, let Taurean beat the man off the dribble one side or the other and make one or two passes starting with that pass off the dribble to hit the open man.

"You're not going to be able to make a pass, get a pass back, cross screen, pop out and reverse the ball. Just one or two very quick passes and take a good shot."

Secondly, Wise says Florida's big men can't allow Villanova to establish defensive position.

"What happens if you have the mismatch inside let's say Foye is fronting you … if you are Al Horford or Joakim Noah, you can't be content to allow him to front you and expect the lob," said Wise. "He can go up and get the lob and they have others that can do the same thing. They have some long athletic guys. (Will) Sheridan is perfect for this team because not only is he a great defender on the ball, but he reads [the play] well and he'll go get the ball if you try to lob it over Foye so they're getting to a lot of those passes and creating turnovers. So, Florida's bigs, if they're fronted on the inside, have to re-establish position. They can't let themselves get fronted. They have to create a direct lane so they can get the ball down low. You have to go right at their head to beat them."

Getting the ball in the low blocks should open the perimeter for Lee Humphrey to shoot the three-ball. Wise says it is essential for Humphrey to have a good shooting game to stretch the Villanova defense.

"If you can establish anything down low you're going to get better looks for Humphrey and this is a game where Florida is going to need Humphrey to hit some shots," said Wise. "Florida is going to have to create some shots for him and the only way you're going to do that is to pinch the defense by getting the ball inside."

Wise thinks Villanova's defensive game plan will center around Florida point guard Taurean Green.

"A lot of Boston College's turnovers, especially in the first half, were when Dudley has the ball and he's just trying to get the ball to [point guard] Hinnant to start the offense and he couldn't get open," said Wise. "I think they try to do the same thing with Taurean, try to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible and throw the offense out of synch."

When Villanova has the ball, the plan is pretty simple. The Wildcats typically put the ball in the hands of Kelly Lowry and let him use his superior quickness to beat his man off the dribble. Once Lowry is past his man, he will look for Ray, who roams the perimeter looking for a gap in the defense so he can launch a three, or to Foye, who is equally effective shooting the three or taking the ball to the rack. If neither of those options are open, then Lowry will try to get in the lane and either get a shot up or get fouled.

Florida has defended the three-ball particularly well in their most recent eight-game winning streak. The Gators held Georgetown to 5-21 from behind the arc Friday night. Villanova had a terrible shooting night against Boston College, and Ray, the Wildcats' best three-point shooter, was way off.

"You can't depend on Allen Ray to go 2-9 like he did yesterday and you can't depend on Randy Foye to go 10-25 like he did yesterday," said Wise. "But you have to find a way to at least take them out of their game at least a little bit."

Wise believes the best way to neutralize Foye and Ray is to use a plan for Lowry that's quite similar to the way the Gators effectively cut off Kentucky point guard Rajon Rondo. Florida essentially dared Rondo to beat them from the outside and by playing far enough off him to give him the outside shot, the Gators neutralized his quickness and ability to get into the paint where he could either get fouled or dump the ball off.

"You almost have to treat him like Rondo," said Wise. "I think he's a better shooter than Rondo at least statistically speaking but you have to guard him the same way. You have to give him a lot of room. You cannot allow him to score in the paint, you cannot allow him to get fouled in the paint and you cannot allow him to set up others in the paint."

It is especially critical that the Gators keep Villanova off the foul line. The Wildcats get to the line 22 times a game which Wise says is "unbelievable for a four-guard lineup." Lowry gets to the line more than six times per game so giving him a wide berth to neutralize what he can do will help the Gators keep the Wildcats from living at the foul line.

"I think the magical number for Florida is 20," said Wise. "If Villanova gets to the foul line 20 times or less, then Florida's going to be in this game."

Unlike Georgetown, which wants to play games in the 120-130 point range, Villanova wants a high scoring game that is up and down the court. Open court games generally favor a smaller, quicker team but the Gators have proven they are at their best when the game goes up and down.

"You want an up and down game with Villanova but you have to be disciplined in your approach," Wise said. "You can't throw the ball away. You can't force things that aren't there. You have to decide what approach you're going to take and be disciplined enough to stick with it.

"I think Florida has to make good decisions with the ball on offense, get good shots and get the ball inside. On defense, I think you have to take Lowry out of the game."

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