Defensive Woes are Product of Immaturity

When Florida lost for the third time in four games on Wednesday night, head coach Billy Donovan began to really re-examine his team. The week before, Florida and LSU were two teams headed in opposite directions, but the Gator loss to LSU opened up Donovan's eyes.

Last week, the Gators were battling for the top spot in the SEC East while LSU was sinking into the basement of the West. Two years ago, both teams advanced to the Final Four, but since then, Florida's success continued and LSU was falling off the face of the Earth. It eventually culminated in the firing of Tigers' head coach John Brady.

But after suffering loss after loss and having the blood of Brady on their hands, the LSU players battled the Gators using passion and aggressiveness to upset Florida on its home court. What Donovan witnessed was the difference in mentality between the two teams.

"What those kids (LSU) did was really impressive," Donovan said. "This is a team that hasn't been able to piece it together."

The reason – Donovan calls it being scarred. LSU has faced so much adversity that they just got sick and tired of being down and finally did something about it. Donovan then assessed the Gators and said the roster is so young that they've never faced hard times and never been scarred.

"There's a level of immaturity on our team," Donovan said. "They're a group to me that says what they think I want to hear or whatever everyone else wants to hear. There's not that hardness when things aren't going our way. They need to learn, but I also think there is a level of immaturity."

Maybe this two-week stretch is what the young Gators need to improve their defensive effort. Florida allowed the worst shooting team in the SEC to make 60 percent of its shots on the road. In 2006, before the Gators won their first national championship, Florida lost three in a row before winning every game the rest of the way. Donovan said that experience scarred the Gators much like the events of the last few weeks have scarred the Tigers.

Only time will tell if the last four games will scar Florida, but it's easy to tell that improvement needs to come on the defensive end of the floor. Florida's best defenders aren't big scorers and that puts Donovan in a precarious position.

"I think that's a dilemma for me as a coach right now," he said. "You try to as a coach talk about the things that are preventing us from being the best we can be. Here's a team that neutralized what we do on offense and we didn't battle. We have two teams. We have a team that can outscore people and we have a team that can struggle offensively."

But defensively, the Gators have no identity right now. They rank second worst in field goal percentage defense in the SEC, allowing opponents to shoot 44 percent from the floor.

"I do think defense is talent, so I think we're lacking in talent defensively," Donovan said. "Sometimes our best defensive lineup doesn't reflect our best offensive lineup. I think they can do a better job then they are right now."

Donovan does admit that there are some flaws with the roster right now. Their two starting guards are undersized and only Speights is taller than 6-9. Offensively, they are among the best in the conference, but defensively, they just don't have the size and length to match up with many teams.

"There are some flaws," Donovan said. "Dan Werner grabbed a tremendous offensive rebound and Chris Johnson pins the ball against the glass. He was able to neutralize Werner's great play. There are some deficiencies, but I also think we can hustle and put us in positions to win."

Things don't get much easier for the Gators. They have Vanderbilt and Kentucky on the road and the two best teams in the SEC, Mississippi State and Tennessee come to the O'Dome. But if they want to be playing in mid-March, the defense is going to have to improve.

Questions or comments? Contact's Chris Chmielenski

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