Second-Time Scouting Report: Florida

A few weeks ago, it would have been unreasonable to consider Vanderbilt a clear-cut favorite against Florida, a team that has won two of its last three games inside Memorial Gym. Injuries, though, can and do change the calculus. It's time for VU to pounce on the wounded Gators. NOTE: Game tips off at 8 pm CT on ESPN.


Playing an injured opponent requires a well-armored mindset. The human person is an organism meant for empathy and compassion, but between the white lines, the call of competition demands ruthlessness and icy focus. Florida is a less formidable team now that reserve forward Will Yeguete is out for the remainder of the season with a broken foot. The Gators are smaller, thinner and more deficient at the defensive end of the floor. Vanderbilt's matchup with Florida is so much more favorable – that's the good part.

The bad part? Vanderbilt is notorious for not handling prosperity – or favorable matchups – as well as it should. This is a time for the Commodores – in pursuit of the No. 2 seed at the SEC Tournament – to show that they can exploit an opponent's vulnerable points and, in the process, establish themselves as the favorite to oppose Kentucky a third time this year in the SEC Tournament championship game. Winning this game matters a great deal to coach Kevin Stallings, but sending a strong statement to the Gators – a statement wrapped in manifest physical superiority near the basket – would matter just as much. VU, after all, will be found somewhere in the five to seven seed range for the NCAAs. The Dores will face a double-digit seed in the round of 64 and therefore encounter a team they should beat… but which America will probably choose in office pools. Vanderbilt is one of the higher-seeded teams that America will pick against when the brackets are unveiled on Selection Sunday, and the tag of being a likely "upset victim" is something the VU crew can't run away from. That label is there, and only a different set of results in 2012 will peel that tag away. The battle to change the program's identity, then, starts with this game against Florida. Can the Dores be cold-blooded cagers for once? A beatdown of Florida would give this team yet one more chance to do what it is always in search of under Stallings: Change its mindset for good… and for the better.

FLORIDA AT-A-GLANCE

Billy Donovan was dealt a nasty curveball with the Yeguete injury. Florida spanked Arkansas on the road on Feb. 18 and showed signs of initiating a genuine, full-bore resurgence, a metamorphosis into the team America expected to see at the start of the season. Florida was clearly regaining momentum and a winning edge after listlessly slogging through the first half of February. Now, the loss of a prime rebounder-defender off the bench means that the Gators will have to go small for the rest of the season. They'll rely on Patric Young for muscle and brawn, but their other four starters will have to light up the night from the perimeter and outmaneuver opponents with quickness, deft hands, and floor spacing. Florida has to either shoot at a high percentage from the field or earn a lot of foul shots, because if it misses the boatload of threes it will surely attempt in this game (and in every remaining game of the 2012 season), the Gators are less equipped to succeed on the offensive glass.

BONUS SECTION: STATISTICAL PROFILE

-- Florida is one of the top 51 teams in the nation in points per game (77.7), assists per game (15.2), and field goal shooting percentage (.465). The 77.7 points-per-game scoring average places Florida 21st in Division I-A competition and nearly 10 points above the national scoring average of 68 points (even number) per game. The SEC's scoring average is 68.9 points per game.

-- Florida's 3-point shooting percentage (.394) is roughly five percent better than the national average of .343. That percentage ranks second in the SEC and 16th in the nation.

-- Florida's average assist total of 15.2 per game easily eclipses the national average of 12.9 per contest. Florida is first in the SEC and 30th in the nation in average assists per game.

-- Points per possession scored: 1.13 (second-best in the SEC, fifth-best in the nation).

-- Points per possession allowed: 0.95 (fifth in the SEC).

-- Effective field goal percentage (shooting percentage weighted to include three-point shots): 55.3, which is first in the SEC and seventh-best in the United States. Florida hits 52.3 percent of its two-point shots (second in the SEC, 26th in the nation).

Starting Lineup

Forward-Center – Patric Young –
Sophomore, 6-9, 247 2011-12: 10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg

Florida's main man in the middle just saw his basketball career become a lot more challenging with Yeguete unable to help him on the glass. Young is a formidable low-post specimen, but he will now receive even more attention from opposing teams. Young could counterintuitively gain more scoring opportunities as a result of the Gators' shift to a perimeter-based offense; Florida might be able to spread out defenses so that Young has more room in which to operate near the basket. However, Young will suffer from an expectations game; he knows that he will have to produce at a much higher rate over the coming weeks, and it's unlikely he'll be able to satisfy his own standards, not to mention everyone else's.

Forward– Erik Murphy – Junior, 6-10, 230; 2011-12: 9.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, .433 3-PT %

Murphy becomes an even bigger question mark for Florida with Yeguete out. Does the lanky junior have what it takes to outmuscle other forwards on the glass, or will he stay on the perimeter to draw defenders away from the rim so that Young can become a rebounding beast? That tension point is not easily resolved for the Gators. Murphy will naturally have to put his 6-10 frame to good use, but he's not as comfortable on the low block as Young is. It will be very interesting to see how Donovan uses his bench in tandem with Murphy. Will Donovan keep Murphy on the floor with Young in an attempt to go big at times, or will Murphy be relegated more to the bench as part of a plan to go really small? Donovan's substitution patterns and lineup combinations will be worth monitoring on Tuesday, and Murphy's place within Florida's reshuffling will merit particularly careful observation.

Guard – Bradley Beal – Freshman, 6-3, 207; 2011-12: 14.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg

It's not a secret that Beal, who has been a great rebounder from the backcourt for Florida this season, will move from a guard to a small forward. Beal has been a valuable teammate for Young throughout the season, giving ballast to the Gators on the boards, so his inclusion in Donovan's plans is certain, whereas Murphy's role is less obvious. The clear and undeniable source of difficulty for Beal is that he will have to defend bigger men while still being expected to rebound to an appreciable degree. Vanderbilt will want to place even more primacy on wearing Beal out at the defensive end of the floor, taking away his legs for jumpers if this contest remains close at crunch time. Beal still hasn't hit the proverbial "freshman wall," but Vanderbilt will have an opportunity to wear him down on Tuesday night.

Guard – Kenny Boynton – Junior, 6-2, 189; 2011-12: 17.3 ppg, 2.6 apg, .441 3-PT%

Boynton, as you know, wore out the Commodores in Gainesville, going wild from three-point range and finding a happy home on the perimeter. Naturally, Vanderbilt must close down Boynton's shooting hand, but the larger priority for the Commodores to realize is that Florida – as a team – will become that much more dependent on the long ball now that one of its main low-post workmen is out for the season. Florida – like teams such as Duke and Michigan – truly hitches its wagon to the three-point shot. Taking away Boynton's trifecta is not just a narrow individual assignment; it's a team mandate.

Guard – Erving Walker – Senior, 5-8, 177; 2011-12: 12.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 2.9 rpg

Everything that applies to Boynton also applies to Walker. Vanderbilt must close down on his shooting hand behind the arc. If VU wants to give Walker uncontested threes, those shots must be 28 feet from the basket, if not more. The point to emphasize about Walker is that, given his lack of height, Vanderbilt should welcome drives to the foul line. If Walker wants to hit contested 15-footers or tough eight-foot leaners, the Dores should be happy to let him try. What VU cannot do is swarm Walker at the foul line (or the elbow areas) and leave the kick-out man open on the wing for a wide-open three. Making Florida win with deuces is a conceptually simple plan that Vanderbilt should be able to execute in this clash.

Bench

On the bench, Donovan has to find even more production than before in Yeguete's absence… but he's not likely to get it. Guards Mike Rosario, Casey Prather, and especially Scottie Wilbekin will receive more minutes in this game. Donovan hopes that the three can play enough defense to make themselves worthwhile, but none of them will be able to rebound at Yeguete's level, undeniably diminishing the extent of what the Gators can do on any given gamenight. As the postseason nears, many coaches (in college and especially the pros) shorten their rotations by choice, seeking to find that small, strong core of players they know they can trust. Florida, however, will have to lengthen its rotation by necessity. Donovan has to see what he can get from his bench before the NCAA Tournament starts, and his tinkering process might not end when the Gators play their first game in the Big Dance. One of the more newsworthy subplots of this game is indeed Florida's bench… and how Vanderbilt responds to it.

Keys to the Game

1) Take away the three.
This is rather self-explanatory. In any competition, you do what your enemy does not want you to do. Florida, now even more reliant upon the three-point shot, wants Vanderbilt to double-team Young or converge on Walker if the Gator point guard dribbles to the foul line. The Commodores, therefore, can't take the bait; they must stay home and close down the three, making the Gators shoot medium-range twos without sending them to the foul line. Florida wants to unload from three-point land; ergo, Vanderbilt can't let that happen (unless the threes are over 28 feet from the goal, and even then, Walker can make those shots if he gets on a crazy hot streak).

2) Gang rebounding against Young and Beal. Tchiengang. Goulbourne. Taylor. Vanderbilt doesn't just have Festus Ezeli to count on when hitting the glass against an undersized Florida squad. The Commodores have the superior depth and length in this matchup; they can run more bodies at the Gators, putting more game pressure on Young (the primary rebounder) and Beal (Young's main helper on the glass) over the course of 40 minutes. Will Yeguete was an essential piece of a Florida run in March Madness. Vanderbilt now has the chance to show the Gators just how much they will miss their essential sixth man over the next few weeks.

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