CHOMPING: Billy Donovan has earned 2011 SEC Coach of the Year honors

By Adam Silverstein
March 4, 2011

The subtext of Tuesday’s de facto 2011 Southeastern Conference regular season title showdown between the No. 14 Florida Gators (23-6, 12-3 SEC) and Alabama Crimson Tide (19-10, 11-4 SEC) was the competition for SEC Coach of the Year between Florida head coach Billy Donovan and Alabama head coach Anthony Grant.

Yet while plenty has been said about Donovan having been snubbed for the honor on three previous occasions (2000, 2006, 2007), little has been mentioned about why his team’s accomplishments should earn him the award over Grant this season.

The Orlando Sentinel looked at the history of the award and how it is usually given to coaches who “either a) overachieve […] or b) dominate,” a trend Donovan recognizes.

“When there is a team that maybe exceeds expectations or maybe a team that comes out of nowhere or nobody thought they would be what they end up being, immediately that’s the coach of the year,” said Donovan of how voting for the award normally goes. “I told Anthony Grant before the season started I thought he had a chance to be really, really good because those guys were going to be a year older.

“If you’re asking me, Anthony Grant’s the coach of the year, because I don’t think anybody ever expected his team to walk in here 11-3, especially with the way they started. I’m not here politicking for Alabama, but I’ve watched enough film. They’re definitely one of the 68 best teams in the country. The job that Anthony has done with a team that lost to St. Peters and Iowa and some of the losses in November and December… For him to reel off what he’s done in this league…

“They’ve taken care of their job and their schedule. Sometimes that’s what kind of sticks out. When somebody has a year that is, ‘Where did they come from?’ The other thing, here at Florida, the expectations were [that] we’re supposed to be good. We definitely this season, at this point in time, have exceeded expectations in my own mind. For a lot of other people, we were picked to win the league.”

Grant’s accomplishments this season have been impressive, but Donovan is simply being modest and complimentary to one of his best friends.

If the SEC handed out a coaching award for the last decade, Donovan would have won it hands down. Yet nothing he has done before the 2010-11 season has anything to do with this year’s team. His past accomplishments and prior snubs should not and will not automatically earn him the honor this season.

“It’s unbelievable. The things he’s done, the players that have come through here, it’s really shocking to me. It’s definitely crazy that he’s never got it,” UF senior forward Chandler Parsons commented when asked about Donovan winning the award in 2011.

What is being overlooked is one simple fact: Donovan has earned the honor this year, regardless of how humble he wants to be in propping up Grant for the award.

Let’s take a look at the facts:

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* Remaining game to be played.

Overall performance: Across the board, Donvoan’s team has proven to be more impressive and dominating than Grant’s. Florida’s record in the SEC East will either be equal to or one game short of Alabama’s in the exponentially weaker West. There is also the little fact that Donovan did not just defeat but rather routed Grant head-to-head.

Conference scheduling: The Crimson Tide compiled its impressive SEC record by beating up on a division that may not send a single team (including the Crimson Tide themselves) to the NCAA Tournament. Donovan accomplished the same feat in a division that could send up to four to the big dance. The Gators’ conference RPI and strength of schedule showcase this disparity quite glaringly.

Expectations: There is no denying that, before the season, Florida was picked to win the East and the SEC outright. However, they did not receive a unanimous vote in either of these categories. In fact, if you re-polled the respondents before the conference slate began (after the Gators were 11-3 out of conference including losses to Central Florida and Jacksonville), chances are that Kentucky or Vanderbilt would have been favored.

Alabama, on the other hand, was chosen to finish third in the West and is instead leading the division. That being said, five teams in the East are over .500 in conference while only two in the West hold the same distinction.

Unlike 2000, 2006 or 2007, Donovan’s team reached this level without a single projected NBA first-round pick. He built this squad from the ground up over the course of four years and has done an exemplary job getting Florida prepared week-in and week-out.

He took a team that was weak defensively and turned them into one of the best in the conference. Donovan stopped using the press defense that won him two national titles but teams were exposing this year due to UF’s smaller backcourt and went to more of a halfcourt set. Since doing so in the middle of January, only one conference opponent (Georgia in a double-overtime game) has scored 70 or more points. UA accomplished a similar feat but, once again, did so against a weaker schedule.

Donovan fixed the Gators’ free throw shooting problem and taught them how to spread the ball around and trust each other. He instilled a confidence in them that had been absent since the Oh Fours departed and constantly demands discipline; so much so that Florida is fouling their opponents so infrequently that they are the only team in the nation not to have a single player foul out of a game.

His second half (and numerous overtime) adjustments are unmatched in conference this season, and the team’s 5-2 road record (including a loss at Kentucky, which is undefeated at home) proves that he has done plenty to enhance the team’s overall maturity even with a bench almost entirely filled with freshmen.

Grant has done a spectacular job with the Crimson Tide in 2011, but what Donovan has accomplished with the Gators should undoubtedly win him SEC Coach of the Year.

“I hope he gets it. I really hope he gets it,” redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin said of the possibility. “That’s a great guy. I love his intensity; I love him as a coach. If he gets it, we’re going to be so happy as a team and a university.”

Photo Credit: Unknown
 
 

3 Comments

  1. Basshole says:

    Adam, I have to agree with you and your numbers, now let’s just hope the voters do also.

  2. Ken (CA) says:

    I agree with Billy, Bama is one of the 68 best teams in the country. That isn’t the real question though. The real question is are they one of the 34 best teams that didn’t get an autobid? That is a much more difficult question to answer

  3. John S says:

    If Bama loses today, I think Billy’s a lock. If Bama were in the SEC East they would have been closer to .500. I think Georgia is a better team but we’ll find out today.

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