No. 1 Florida Gators basketball (29-2, 18-0 SEC) concluded the regular season as the Southeastern Conference champions and now looks ahead to the 2014 SEC Tournament, which the team is set to compete in beginning with quarterfinal action on Friday. Florida head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Monday to his team’s focus heading into the tournament.
NEXT STEP: SEC TOURNAMENT
Most of the records that the Gators have broken this season are ones the team previously held during its back-to-back national championship campaigns. Florida looks earn another “first since 2007” this week when it competes in the SEC Tournament and tries to take home both crowns in a single season.
“The regular season is over with. Everybody in the league starts out and it’s 0-0. It’s kind of a new season, so to speak, over a five-day event,” said Donovan on Monday. “We have some time to prepare and get ourselves better. We will take on with the next challenge at a neutral site against teams that we might not have seen in some time, teams that have gotten better and improved. I think our guys are excited.
“All that really matters is the first game that we play on Friday. That’s all that matters right now. We don’t know who we’re going to play, so it’s a little bit of a unique situation. At this time of the year you always have an idea of who we’re playing next and you can start the preparation. That’s not the case here. With this tournament, we play the winner of that game on Thursday [Missouri vs. Texas A&M] and we’ll have to make sure we’re really ready to play. The scouting part of it is hard because you’re not going to find out who you’re going to play until late that afternoon on Thursday.”
Donovan has decided not to have the Gators over-prepare for that unknown opponent. Florida took Sunday and Monday off of practice but will be on the court Tuesday-Thursday before heading to Atlanta, GA. The goal is to keep Florida “energized, excited and enthusiastic” while making the team aware of trends that it can either continue or eliminate over the course of the week.
“I think this is a time where, for us right now, the next couple days is a little different because there’s not going to be any scouting that’s going to be in play,” he said. “The biggest area for us is to get emotionally, mentally and psychologically past what happened on Saturday. We’ve got to get past that. That starts [Monday] afternoon, getting past that and moving on and focusing on the next thing in front of us.”
UF’s practices are also a bit more laid back with the team no longer participating in two-and-a-half-hour marathons but rather “doing a lot of skill development, skill work, execution and working on our defense getting pick-and-roll coverages down where we’re understanding rotations in the press. Said Donovan: “We’re trying to shore up those areas where we can get better as a team.”
Due in large part to his decades of experience seeing his and other teams struggle when faced with this situation, Donovan suggested on Monday that the NCAA consider adjusting the tournament schedule for teams playing in their conference championship games hours before the conclusion of Selection Sunday. With second-round games played on both Thursday and Friday, Donovan thinks conference championship participants should get the latter schedule, which would also include a third-round Sunday contest should they advance.
“The one thing the NCAA has to look at is any conference that’s playing their conference tournament and it goes into Sunday, those teams, in my opinion, should not play in the NCAA Tournament until Friday. Because you have to go up there and you have to have a mandatory opening practice on a Wednesday if you’re playing Thursday, that’s not right for those kind of teams where you’ve got a team that all of sudden does a heck of a job, they get all the way to Sunday, they win a championship, maybe they miss Selection Sunday, they’ve got to travel back, they get back on campus on Sunday, they’ve got to try to recuperate after playing three straight games and they’re on a plane Tuesday night going into a place, Wednesday practice, Thursday playing. That’s a lot in my opinion.
“Now, it doesn’t always work out that way; sometimes it does. That’s the only thing I think the NCAA – sometimes they can’t do anything about it – but that would be one thing I would really take a hard look at. And I think our league should look at it, too. Are we better off backing up our conference tournament and ending it on Saturday? Just end it on Saturday and give everybody Sunday off and figure out who’s in the tournament and who’s not and move from there.”
Donovan’s Florida teams have experienced the difficult scheduling procedure, but he says the Gators will happily deal with whatever straw they are dealt when the NCAA Tournament arrives.
“We’re going to go out and whatever is in front of us, we’re going to have to handle. We’re not going to make excuses for anything. We’re not going to do anything like that,” he said.
“We’re going to basically focus on what is in front of us, and what is in front of us right now is playing on Friday. That’s the only thing that matters. Everything else kind of goes by the wayside. And after this weekend is over with, wherever we get sent to or whoever we’re playing, we’ll have to get ready to line up and play on that day whenever it is.”
» On senior center Patric Young making the most of his four years at Florida: “[Like] Matt Bonner, he has been the consummate student-athlete. I think he represents, in my opinion, what college athletics is all about. His education is very, very important to him. Going to class is very important to him. He’s very active on campus, and he’s very active in the community. He’s got a great personality. I think he, maybe more so than anybody that’s ever been in this program, has taken full advantage of everything on this campus and what it has to offer. From school, to things going on, to Christian groups, to going to church on campus, to mentoring people – all sorts of things – he has taken full advantage. Full advantage of the academic support system here, full advantage of the weight room. He’s been a real consummate student-athlete. I mean, God forbid something should happen to Patric physically and he was not able to play basketball again, I have no doubt that he would be just as successful at anything he wanted to do because he’s that kid that he’s taken advantage of the opportunity that’s been given to him.”
» On what redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith needs to focus on for the remainder of the season: “He has a very difficult time getting out of [a funk] because I think he’s so self-critical, he gets so down on himself, he beats himself up. And he gets to a place where he loses energy, he loses emotion, he loses enthusiasm. You know he’s got to learn how to work his way through and out of those situations better than he does. And what he has done in the past has not been productive and helpful to make that happen. He needs to understand there’s another play coming. … He’s got to be mentally strong enough that when the first couple of possessions don’t go his way that he still stays the course in trying to fight through some of that. That’s been our biggest challenge as a coaching staff with him. He’s done a pretty good job, I think, coming out of that Vanderbilt game; he’s had some consistent performances. He’s been a little bit more reliable. He’s been a little bit better shooting the basketball. But there’s going to come a game – and it may be Friday – where he gets into the game and next thing you know his first couple shots don’t go down. He owes it to himself and he owes to our team to be able to pull himself out of that. And we need to help him with that but he’s got to also take accountability, too.”
» On freshman point guard Kasey Hill starting to put it all together: “I think he got tougher. I think his experience forced him to grow up a little bit. It’s going to be interesting to see how he responds to that. Does he revert back to kind of how he’s been? The thing I was most pleased about was that he played with a motor, he had energy, he was tough, he mixed it up physically, he tried to defend. For a while there the only thing he was really giving our team was open floor speed. He was giving nothing else. And this was a game where I thought he mixed it up. … The lead went from seven to 21, and he had a lot to do with that. He was really, really impactful on that. But this is hopefully a great lesson for him to be able to learn and take the next step he that he needs to take as a player and play more to that identity that he was on Saturday than maybe he has been in the past.”
» On how sophomore guard Michael Frazier II, who was named SEC Co-Player of the Week on Monday, compares to Lee Humphrey as a three-point shooter: “They know their shot better than anybody else knows their shot. … That’s like a golfer, when you swing the club, and right when you make contact with the ball, a great golfer understands why you missed the shot and where the ball is going to go and what’s happening. Humphrey and Frazier know their shots better than I know their shots. They know why they missed, why they make, what they need to do. They know their routine. I would say those two guys in particular are unbelievable in the amount of personal investment they make in terms of getting up shots every day. … We played Ole Miss at 11:00 a.m. Central Time. Michael Frazier was in Ole Miss’s gym at 6:45 in the morning shooting. That’s what makes him great. Lee Humphrey would do the same thing. Those guys just have an incredible will to go in there and work and work and work and work to the point that they’ve got their shot down so well.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On how the 2013-14 team compares to the back-to-back national title winners: “This team handled the end of the season better than that team did. Now, we all know how that team handled postseason. You know, those guys went 18-0 in two years in the SEC Tournament to the NCAA Tournament. I mean, that’s incredible what those guys did. … The thing that both teams share that would be similar, in my opinion, is there is really, really good connection inside of our team. I think that’s very, very similar. … I’m always a little bit guarded starting to compare one team to the next because it’s different. The personalities are different, the players are different, everything’s different. What these guys have done in the regular season has been really, really remarkable and special. I would hate to have that accomplishment all the sudden be compared to something else because what they did has been, in my opinion, totally unique and special. It kind of stands on its own of what they did in the history of this program.”
» On how he expects the Gators to deal with any postseason awards they might win: “Any individual honor, to me, is just a reflection on your team. And whatever awards are given out or whatever honors are given out to any of our guys, I think they would be the first one to say, ‘Without my teammates, this would not have been possible.’ So if you have a goal – ‘I want to be Player of the Year’ – well, you can’t accomplish that by yourself. You got to have other guys to make that happen. I think any individual honor, to me, is always a reflection of the group, everybody shares in that together. Even though one individual is being honored, I think everybody shares in that.”