Second Scouting Report: Florida

The outlook gets brighter for Vanderbilt basketball each passing day. The Commodores now know that unless Texas A&M somehow manages to win at Arkansas this upcoming Saturday, they should be able to fight past the Aggies for the No. 10 seed and a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. That knowledge can liberate VU as it prepares to face the SEC's best team.


Unless Texas A&M figures out a way to win inside Bud Walton Arena – which is not very likely at all – Vanderbilt will need nothing more than a home-court win over South Carolina on Senior Day to wrap up a first-round SEC Tournament bye. That's a notable accomplishment for a team that looked down and out a few weeks ago after a series of wrenching last-minute losses. Kevin Stallings has kept the attention – and earned the respect – of his players, a great sign heading into next season. With long-term optimism growing in Nashville, Vanderbilt can take the court against the Florida Gators with a sense of eagerness, not dread.

This game is an opportunity for the Dores and very much a measuring stick for them as the offseason looms. This is the first time Vanderbilt will get to test itself against Florida this season, and it will very likely be the only time as well. The VU crew needs to gather information on Wednesday night in Gainesville, Fla., and when the season does end, this game will need to point the way to future improvements for the program. Vanderbilt coaches and players will need to study film of the 2013 Gators in the offseason, because this team – in so many ways (but not all the time) – exemplifies what a sound basketball team should look like on the court.

FLORIDA AT-A-GLANCE

Yes, the SEC is not a particularly strong basketball league this season. It might send only two teams to the NCAA tournament. Yet, when handed a manageable roster of opponents, Florida has managed quite well. The point to underscore with the Gators is that two of their three SEC losses (at Missouri, at Tennessee) came on nights when at least one member of their core eight-man rotation was unable to play. Will Yeguete missed each of those losses, and Michael Frazier II missed the Tennessee contest. When this team was whole, it pounded the SEC until it visited Bud Walton Arena on Feb. 5. If Florida has its main eight healthy for the NCAA tournament, it should be seen as a foremost Final Four contender.

As the "Stat Pack" section below so clearly indicates, Florida has gotten a lot of mileage from playing the SEC this season. Yes, the Gators' numbers are inflated as a result of playing 16 SEC games, so in that sense, they might be somewhat overrated. However, a lesser team would not rank so highly in several statistics. Yes, Florida is playing inferior opponents on a regular basis. However, Florida is crushing those opponents, not merely beating them. If Florida wins this game, it will clinch the outright SEC title for 2013. Head coach Billy Donovan is no longer coaching the slackers he once did in 2008 and 2009, when talented Florida teams failed to make the NCAAs.

FLORIDA STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS

Field goal shooting percentage: 48.8. National rank: 8. (out of 345).

Two-point field goal shooting percentage: 56.4. National rank: 4.

Free throw shooting percentage: 69. National rank: 177.

Field goal shooting percentage defense: 37.6. National rank: 6.

Two-point field goal percentage defense: 41.4. National rank: 8.

Turnovers per game: 11.1. National rank: 30.

Assists per game: 15.5. National rank: 23.

Rebounding percentage: 53.9. National rank: 55.

Points scored per possession: 1.138. National rank: 6.

Points allowed per possession: 0.831. National rank: 2.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Patric Young –
Junior, 6-9, 249 2012-13: 10.4 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game, 1.7 blocked shots per game

Young is a beast, the player who provides more matchup problems for more Florida opponents than anyone else. Young is a load to handle inside. He has developed a six-foot jump hook from the middle of the paint that is very hard to stop. Young's brawny, muscular frame enables him to seal out opponents on the glass. Yet, his physical style of play does not prevent him from getting off the ground. Some low-post players are bolted to the floor, relying solely on positioning or a wide body to defend the rim and clog driving lanes for opposing slashers. Young isn't constrained in such a manner. He carries 249 pounds lightly, elevating to block shots and make opponents think twice about taking the ball to the tin. The scope of Young's impact is considerable, and it would be hard to refute the contention that he is Florida's biggest force in any game the Gators play.

If there's one knock against Young, it is that he doesn't play with tremendous energy on a relentlessly consistent basis. He can sometimes disappear at the offensive end of the floor, which underscores the need for Donovan needs to make sure that Young gets plenty of post touches. Florida fans and beat writers would readily agree that feeding Young on the low blocks must become the main feature of the Gators' offense in the NCAA tournament. If Young doesn't get many shot attempts, those looks will likely go to the guards and wings, and that's when Florida becomes too reliant on the three-point shot.

Forward – Erik Murphy – Senior, 6-10, 238; 2012-13: 12.4 points per game, 5 rebounds per game

Murphy is Florida's best three-point shooter, hitting 46.4 percent of his attempts. Because of his size, defenders have to be that much more vigilant in defending him. An average close-out attempt by a smaller defender won't take away Murphy's shooting hand. He needs to be tightly guarded, chased off the three-point arc so that he can't do extra damage. Vanderbilt could have trouble defending Murphy if Florida's other shooters – particularly Kenny Boynton – get hot, but Murphy cannot be allowed to attain any sort of rhythm in the game's early stages; he's clearly the Gators' first perimeter option. Murphy won't beat any defender off the dribble on a consistent basis, and that's one of his foremost limitations as an offensive player. Making Murphy put the ball on the deck, especially inside the arc, must always be the priority for the Dores.

Guard – Scottie Wilbekin – Junior, 6-2, 176; 2012-13: 9.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.3 assists per game, 1.6 steals per game

Wilbekin is a coach's delight. He doesn't insist on scoring as a primary way of contributing to his team's best interests. Wilbekin is willing to do all the other things that produce quality possessions and defensive stops. He shares the ball and doesn't turn it over very often. He helps out on the glass and uses his quick hands to become an effective pickpocket. Wilbekin's best and most outstanding virtue at the offensive end of the floor is that he has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.3 to 1, easily the best ratio on the Gators' roster. Wilbekin's best overall attribute, though, is his help-and-recovery defense, his ability to double-team, work through switches, and square up with ballhandlers after they get half a step on him. When Vanderbilt studies the Gators now and in the coming offseason, it will identify Florida's help-and-recovery defense as the biggest reason why the Gators are so good. They rotate with exceptional crispness and precision. They don't get caught in screens, communicating effectively and displaying considerable concentration. No player embodies what Florida does on defense (and how the Gators go about their business at that end of the floor) more than Wilbekin.

Guard – Kenny Boynton – Senior, 6-2, 190; 2012-13: 12.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.1 apg

This is the player who has to be better for Florida in March if the Gators are going to make the Final Four.

Boynton is a high-volume perimeter shooter – he has attempted at least 242 threes in each of his first three full seasons, and with 177 to date this season, he'll get to 200 at the very least. Last season, Boynton made himself into a particularly accurate marksman, hitting 40.7 percent of his threes and 44 percent of all field goal attempts. This year, however, Boynton is hitting just 32.8 percent of his threes and 39.6 percent of all field goals. Boynton can still make a difference at the defensive end of the floor, and in fact, he has been working very hard on defense, not allowing his offensive struggles to hijack his effort level. However, Boynton has taken bad shots (and missed them) in the crunch-time sequences of Florida's losses to Missouri and Tennessee. He also missed a wide-open look late in the Missouri game, so it's not as though he knocks down jumpers even when he's taking a smart shot. Boynton's combination of shot selection and accuracy must return to 2012 levels if Florida is to have a good shot at the Final Four.

Guard – Mike Rosario – Senior, 6-3, 183; 2012-13: 12.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.2 apg

Rosario is a multi-tool player who can create his own shot, drive to the basket, and make creative plays both in traffic and near the rim. Rosario is a player who will showcase a silky-smooth handle and a clear thought process in one sequence, but he's prone to cracking under pressure as a ballhandler and shooter, as was the case on Dec. 15 in a last-minute meltdown and loss at Arizona. Rosario and his Florida teammates also faltered at the foul line against Missouri; the Gators missed the front ends of all three one-and-ones they attempted in the second half against the Tigers.

Yet, for all the ways in which Rosario has been shaky, he's actually become the offensive player who has matured more than anyone else on the Florida roster. Rosario has been a consistent force for this team in the SEC, specifically because he attacks the rim and thinks more about setting up his teammates than jacking up bad shots. The version of Rosario that has existed over the past two months is exactly what the Gators need in March Madness. Whereas Boynton must improve for Florida to make a deep run, Rosario merely needs to remain the same player. Vanderbilt's priority must be to keep Rosario out of the lane, containing his ability to break down the Dores' defense with dribble penetration.

Bench

Donovan doesn't go very deep into his bench, using three primary reserves in an eight-man rotation: recently-returned forward Will Yeguete, guard Casey Prather, and shooting specialist Michael Frazier II. Yeguete is a gritty forward who knows how to get to the ball on the glass. He missed three and a half weeks due to an injury but made a brief return to the Florida lineup this past Saturday against Alabama. Prather is a terrific perimeter defender who does not look to score. The Commodores can cheat off him when Florida has the ball. Frazier is a freshman who loves to shoot the three – he has made 48.3 percent of his triples this season.

Keys to the Game

1) Focus on Young, then Murphy on kickouts.
Young is the player who cannot be allowed to dominate on offense. Florida's opponents have to invite the outside shot, especially since the Gators sometimes depend far too much on the three. Vanderbilt needs to contain Young, keeping in mind that Young will kick the ball out to the perimeter. When Young makes the kickout, Vanderbilt's rotations have to be sound. If there's a player VU must stick with, it's Murphy (and, off the bench, Frazier). If Boynton/Rosario/Wilbekin hit threes, just tip your cap and say good night.

2) Pound the ball into the paint. Yeguete is far from 100 percent healthy; he was very skittish and uncertain of his body's capabilities against Alabama. Murphy has the size of a power forward but plays like a guard. Vanderbilt needs to go inside first… and second… and third, attacking Yeguete and Murphy while also trying to get Young in foul trouble. If Vanderbilt can do any real damage to Florida in the first half, it can legitimately expect to remain competitive for the duration. This must be the attack plan on offense – go hard to the rim and test Florida's forwards. Florida's guards are lockdown defenders; going at them makes no sense.

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