Freeze Frame: The Changing Look of Florida’s Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 18th, 2012

As pointed out in the SEC Morning Five on Monday, Florida did a lot right in its close loss to Arizona on Saturday night. The positive play was overshadowed by the last minute of the game, but one minute of poor execution (REALLY poor execution!) does not a season make. Florida lost a true road game to a top 10 team by one point. In December. Not exactly symbolic of a collapse. But even in allowing 1.12 points per possession against the Wildcats, Florida flexed its muscles on defense. Arizona scored 16 points off the Gators’ 14 turnovers. But when UF was set in its half-court defense, the Wildcats struggled offensively. Not surprising, considering this is statistically the best Florida defensive team of the Billy Donovan era, including his championship teams of the mid-2000s. We looked at the last five years of defensive efficiency for the Gators, and threw in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 champions just for good measure:

Florida's interior defense is among the nation's best.

Florida’s interior defense is among the best in Gators’ history, including the National Championship teams in 2006 and 2007.

The 2012-13 Gators are the best shot-blocking team since Donovan’s two National Championship clubs. They also have the lowest two-point field goal percentage defense, the lowest effective field goal percentage defense, and the highest defensive turnover percentage in the Donovan era. On Saturday night, Florida’s effectiveness was aided by changing its schemes throughout the contest. The Gators employed a man-to-man, 2-3 zone, and full court press, all with varying degrees of success. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will take a look at what makes Florida’s defense so efficient.

Play 1 — 17:07 remaining in the first half

The Gators go to a man-to-man defense early in the contest. It is easy to see how the presence of shot-blocker extraordinaire Patric Young gives the defenders some leeway. Young is lurking down low in this series of plays ready to pounce on the first offensive player bold enough to challenge him. While Young is the biggest reason Florida’s D is effective, there are several other factors that make this one of the stingiest defenses in the country.

Florida playing a little man to man with a secret weapon in the middle.

Florida playing a little man-to-man with a secret weapon in the middle.

Guard Mike Rosario is run through a screen on the baseline to start the play.

Yeguete fills in giving Rosario time to recover.

Yeguete fills in giving Rosario time to recover.

Notice how quickly forward Will Yeguete closes out on the offensive player to allow Rosario time to recover. Meanwhile, Young and the other defenders stay grounded.

Yeguete coming out to help leaves him out of position to guard his man.

Yeguete coming out to help leaves him out of position to guard his man.

When Yeguete switches, it leaves the screener open on the baseline. Yeguete scrambles to recover, and Young lurks in the middle.

It's nice to have a shot blocking presence waiting in the wings.

It’s nice to have a shot blocking presence waiting in the wings.

Yeguete’s recovery and Young’s presence leave Arizona with a blocked shot and nowhere to go. In this man-to-man defensive play, it was Yeguete’s speedy recovery on help defense and Young’s shot-blocking presence that made this play a success.

Play 2 — 12:30 remaining in the first half

Florida switches to 2-3 zone, and with any 2-3 zone, that leaves a gap in the middle near the free throw line.

Florida's 2-3 zone, which is becoming a staple defense for the Gators this season.

Florida’s 2-3 zone, which is becoming a staple defense for the Gators this season.

That area of the floor is, of course, exactly where Arizona attacks.

Arizona gets the ball to the middle with an option for a pull up jumper or lob to the basket.

Arizona has a couple of options at this point.

Arizona gets the ball to the middle of the lane with an option for a pull up jumper or lob to the basket, but three things happen. Florida forward Casey Prather bodies up on Grant Jerrett on the baseline, cutting off the lob. Secondly, Young steps forward in the lane, eliminating the option for a pull up jumper. Finally, the other three defenders don’t feel pressure to help because of Young’s presence and they stay close to their offensive players in order to cut off the passing lanes. Florida removes any good offensive options, putting the offensive player exactly where the Gators want him — in a one-on-one situation with Young.

This is exactly what Florida wants.

This is exactly what Florida wants.

A one-on-one situation with Young won’t typically end well for the other team. And it doesn’t here.

Play 3 — 5:45 remaining in the first half

Finally, Florida shows us one more defensive trick it has up its sleeve when it rolls out a full court press to attack what some consider to be a shaky backcourt situation with guard Mark Lyons. You can see the beginnings of the full court press here as the Gators look for Yeguete and point guard Scottie Wilbekin to trap in the corner.

Florida is looking for the trap in the backcourt.

Florida is looking for the trap in the backcourt.

The Gators push Lyons to the sideline, and get the trap they were looking for at the halfcourt line.

There's the trap Florida wanted.

There’s the trap Florida wanted.

The trap is in place, but it is again the off-ball defenders who make this play work. Notice Young preparing for a cross court lob to the other sideline.

Young takes a break from blocking shots to steal passes.

Young takes a break from blocking shots to steal passes.

That flash you see in the middle of the picture is a streaking Young breaking for the steal on the cross-court pass. This serves as yet another example of Young’s impact on the defensive end, and how other defenders don’t need to take chances because of his presence.

Florida’s changing defensive schemes, quickness in closing out and recovering in help defense, and Young’s shot-blocking presence enabled the Gator defenders to take fewer chances and make this Florida defense one of the most efficient in the country. Donovan’s teams have always had little difficulty scoring the ball, but the difference between the 2012-13 team and the Gators over the previous five years is that this team can defend too. The Gators may have lost the game on Saturday, but their defense showed us why this team is such a threat to win the SEC and go deep into the NCAA Tournament in March.

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Brian Joyce (285 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.


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