First Thoughts on Virginia's NCAA Tournament Matchup with the Florida Gators

We here at Streaking the Lawn are biased, but the Virginia - Florida matchup is one of the most intriguing in the NCAA Tournament's Round of 64. Part of what makes college basketball so great and consistently interesting is the contrasts in style between teams. The Gators play a style that will pose a new test for Tony Bennett and the team's Packline defense as well as it's deliberate offensive pace. Based on KenPom's numbers, ESPN's thoughts, and a handful of games witnessed (I'm trying to keep it quiet around here, but I did grow up a Gator fan), here are some thoughts on Florida.

Florida offense vs. Virginia defense: We fans are used to having defense drilled into our heads by Bennett and Co, while just appreciating any points we can get. Not so for Gator fans, which watch the nation's #3 offense in terms of efficiency, averaging 120.9 points per 100 possessions. Any discussion of Florida's offense has to begin and end with their ability to shoot the three-ball. UF is 19th in the nation in 3-point shooting, at 39%, and they take tons of outside shots; 44.5% of their field goal attempts are from behind the arc (6th nationally), which translates into 39.1% of their points (3rd). Kenny Boynton is the main guy to watch out for; he averages 17 ppg and shot 43.4% from three-point range, leading the team in makes and attempts. (While admittedly not adjusted for tempo, his 246 3-point attempts are way beyond Sammy Zeglinski's 165, our most common long range shooter). Erving Walker plays alongside Boynton at the point to round out UF's strong backcourt.

These open shots are created in two main ways. The Gators don't play at a particularly fast pace, but they'll push the tempo and take threes in transition. The team is particularly astute at making the extra pass to find the right man for the shot. Second, they'll throw in tons of ball screens and take a shot as soon as they're given any space. The Gators' offense has a nice "flow" to it, and the players function well as a team, leading the SEC in assists.

How does UVA counter this shooter-heavy offense? On paper, it's not an ideal matchup for the Packline D - we attempt to force our opponents to take jumpers, but Florida has no problem doing so. However, with the appropriate emphases, the Wahoos' defense could neutralize them. UVA's willingness to forgo offensive rebound opportunities and get back on defense is a start toward slowing the transition game. To date, we've done a good job of stopping not just the primary fast break, but the secondary one also; if everyone sticks on their men, the Gators could be frustrated. I also don't think the Florida's ball screen action will pose a particularly difficult challenge. If there's anything Virginia's defense excels at its exerting effort and keeping focus. Combine this with hard hedges on screens, and we have a recipe for defending the three. Just like "the book" on stopping three-point shooting says, we won't be going under screens and we will be eliminating space and closing out hard.

Florida defense vs. Virginia offense: The Gator defense is nothing to be afraid of. The unit would be frustrating for our defensively-trained minds, mainly because of the effort gap between the two sides of the ball. Florida will mix some man and some zone and have mediocre results at best; they were last in the SEC in 3-point percentage defense, 9th in effective FG%, 6th at forcing turnovers, and 6th at defensive rebounding (we are 3rd, 1st, 4th, and 2nd in the ACC in these departments). They'll likely throw some creative double teams at Mike Scott, which is not much of a concern. First of all, Mike Scott could be quadruple teamed and still make shots. Second of all, he'll have opportunities to pass out to our perimeter shooters who, for the love of God, must make baskets.

One compelling thing to look for is Florida's press, which they have broken out for long stretches of games. For some crazy reason, our opponents have not shown us much consistant pressure this season, but the issue always raises a dilemma. Does UVA stick with its slow, methodical pace, work it's way past the half court line, and set its offense up? This creates no negative incentive for the defense pressure, which earns a shot at a turnover and about 8 seconds off the shot clock. Or do we push the ball to the hoop and look for quick and easy points? This allows the opposition to set the tempo; also, it pains me to type this, but we struggle finishing layups. Luckily, it's Tony Bennett, not I, that gets to answer this question.

Scheduling thoughts: Florida has the potential to take down good teams; they've done it this year when they pounded Florida State and Vanderbilt at home and beat Alabama twice, once on the road and once in the SEC Tournament. However, just like us, they haven't been able to knock off the real "big dogs," going 0-5 against OSU, Syracuse, and UK. Florida's struggles away from the friendly confines of the O'Connell Center are notable. The team went 4-7 in road games, then 1-1 at a neutral site in the SEC Tourney. This is exemplified by their double overtime loss at Rutgers, a game in which the Gators failed to pull away early, then blew a 7 point lead with under 3 minutes to play.

Gator Starters: A quick check on the Florida starting 5:

Erving Walker is a 5-8 senior who handles the point. Walker has the ability to create points with his jumper, as he is a stellar outside shooter, and also averages almost 5 assists per game.

Kenny Boynton is a 6-2 junior whom I spoke about above. The Hoos will have to be sure to keep him out of a rhythm and close out hard on his shots.

Bradley Beal is a 6-3 freshman that entered as a highly touted recruit. He hasn't shot the ball particularly well but is the team's leading rebounder. Joe Harris, who has been quietly shutting down opposing wings all year, should match up well with him on both sides of the ball.

Erik Murphy, a 6-10 junior, will be a tougher matchup. Not only does he have the ability to score inside, but he shoots 43.2% from behind the arc.

Patric Young, a 6-9 sophomore, is more of a banger inside. He leads the team in effective FG% and is the most imposing interior force when the Gators care to play a little defense.

The Hoos have just days left until their first appearance in the Big Dance since 2007. Tip-off in Omaha will be at 2:10 PM Friday, and the game will be broadcast by TNT.

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