What Does Florida Need to Do to Become Great?Posted by Brian Joyce on March 12th, 2013
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.
Less than a month ago, Florida seemed destined for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now, with three straight road losses and having lost four of its last five away contests, Florida is heading into the SEC Tournament needing to win it all just to be in the running for a two seed. More importantly, Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators seem to have lost all the momentum it had heading into the final stages of the season.
Florida’s ability to win in close game situations has to be of concern. The Gators’ most recent loss came at the hands of Kentucky in a 61-57 thriller in Rupp Arena. “We’re going to get into a close situation again,” Donovan said. “There’s no doubt about it. How will we respond? I don’t know.” So far this season, Donovan’s Gators haven’t responded well. In games decided by single digits, Florida is 0-5. Even more relevant than the score has been the way in which his team lost. Against the Wildcats, the Gators held a 57-50 lead with over seven and a half minutes remaining on the clock. Florida didn’t score a point for the remainder of the game, missing 11 shots and committing five turnovers as it watched Kentucky go on an 11-0 run. Have the Gators lost their mojo at the worst time possible?
If the game never gets close, then Florida won’t have to worry about late game situations. But the term March Madness isn’t derived from watching blowouts transpire on the road to the Final Four. Donovan knows his Gators will encounter another tight situation, and he is rightfully worried about how his team will respond. “I’m disappointed, to be honest with you, in our team’s fire,” Donovan said. “I don’t see it. I don’t see it. That’s concerning to me.” Donovan knows what matters most is not whether a team gets a regular season win in Lexington — though it would have been nice — but how a team finishes in March. “I’m trying to help our team become great,” he said. “I’m not interested in just us kind of going through the motions here.” But aside from effort, what will it take to be great?
Turnovers have been a major issue for Florida in its losses. “Even going back to the Arizona game, our difficulties were turnovers, press offense-wise,” Donovan said. “We struggled there and that certainly came back and undid us. I thought in the Missouri game, being up 13, turnovers hurt us in terms of we had three out of four possessions, we turned the ball over and they went on a 12-0 run to cut it to one. Then we’re going back and forth in a dogfight and probably at least at the end settled for too many threes.” Donovan is also concerned with rebounding as his Gators have been outrebounded in five of their last six games. “When you see our starting center (Patric Young) with two rebounds in 24 minutes of play, that clearly to me is an effort issue,” the head coach quipped.
In order to truly achieve greatness this year with a deep NCAA Tournament run, the Gators need to find a player they can be confident in to take the last shot when the team absolutely needs a basket. But in the absence of a clear cut choice, it is a fair question to ask who that player would be. Four Florida starters average between 10.5 and 12.5 points per game. The fifth starter, Scottie Wilbekin, averages just under 10.0 points per game. However, Donovan rejects the notion that his team needs a “go-to guy” saying Florida has been successful because of its team approach. “We don’t have a player who you can just throw the ball to and say, ‘Go get one,’” Donovan said. “Erik Murphy needs someone to get it to him in a good spot. They have to rely to each other.”
As Florida looks to shore up weaknesses before do-or-die time, only time will tell if the lack of a go-to offensive threat will hurt the Gators’ chances to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. Will Donovan’s team approach work? Or will Florida need a player to step up and demand the ball to give the Gators a basket to keep their NCAA hopes alive? Florida hasn’t won a close game yet, but none of that matters in March as long as the Gators figure things out when it matters most.