Head coach Billy Donovan spoke with the media on Monday, less than a day after his Florida Gators (32-2) were rewarded for their tremendous season up to this point with the No. 1 overall seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Florida will play its first game in second-round action on Thursday at 4:10 p.m. on TBS from the Amway Center in Orlando, FL against a 16-seed play-in team. Albany and Mount Saint Marys square off on Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. in Dayton, OH in a First Four game that will air live nationally on truTV.
OVERALL NO. 1 FOR THE SECOND TIME
Most statistics about the 2013 Florida football team ended in a negative fashion with “since 1979;” Gators basketball is experiencing the opposite phenomenon with all of its positive records concluding with “since 2007.” The latest has to do with UF earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time…since 2007, which is also the last year Florida swept the Southeastern Conference Championships, advanced to the Final Four and won a national title.
“That’s probably a reflection of what’s happened from November all the way to here in March,” said Donovan about the seed. “Once the brackets are out and you’re playing, seedings and things like that, players aren’t thinking about that. They’re thinking about playing and competing and playing to the best of their ability.”
The difference between 2007 and 2014 is that the Gators knew their first opponent seven years ago, when they faced Jackson State. This time, Florida has to deal with the expanded 68-team field and will not learn about the victor of the play-in game set to be held on Tuesday night.
Donovan said Monday that UF’s coaches will watch film from both teams and try to find some similarities that the Gators can work on during practice on Tuesday (while also working on themselves). The last thing Florida would want to do is have its team undergo preparations and waste practice time against a team it will not face. The players will get a first-look at the opponent after Tuesday’s game and prepare for the game on Wednesday in Orlando.
“We’ve had some games that have been quick turnarounds in this league on those Thursday-Saturday games, especially early in the season where you’re seeing an SEC team for the first time,” he said. “I think our guys are accustomed to that and that’s what’s really going to end up happening if you’re fortunate enough to move on and advance. You’re dealing with a one-day prep even going into the next game.”
The Gators have spent a significant amount of time over the last few weeks preparing for the same teams over and over again. Donovan believes Florida will be excited to “play somebody new,” noting that “now it’s about starting at the ground floor and trying to build up a level of preparation for your guys getting ready to play the game.”
NOT MUCH OF A CHARITY STRIPE
There is no question that the Gators are capable of shooting well from the free throw line. For example, during a four-game stretch in the middle of February, Florida connected on 77-of-97 attempts (.794) on its way to pulling out four hard-fought victories including three on the road.
However, UF has shot just 56.2 percent from the charity stripe over its last seven contests and made just half of its attempts in three SEC Tournament games.
Even senior center Patric Young, who had drastically improved at the line and was hitting 75 percent of his free throws during Florida’s eight games in February, has made just 52.2 percent over six games in March.
“Free throw shooting,” said Donovan when asked what the Gators need to improve on most heading into the tournament. “We’ve got to do a better job there. We were doing really, really well for a while there. One of the things that happened is we did work on it some, but we’ve got to spend more time on that. That has to be an emphasis and focal point for us.
“We’ve shown the ability and the potential to shoot the ball well. There’s been numerous games where we come down the stretch of games and gone 10-for-11, we’ve made 16 out of 18. There’s been some good stretches. Certainly that three-game stretch from us was not a great stretch for us at all. That would be an area we’ve got to get better.”
Florida has been able to make up for failing to take advantage of gimmies by being more efficient from beyond the arc. UF is shooting 47.5 percent from three-point land in March.
Particularly efficient from downtown lately has been senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who has drained 13-of-23 treys (.565) in four games since March 8.
“Our guys [have been] working in the gym, doing a lot of extra work shooting the ball,” Donovan explained. “You can’t do the same things physically that you did back in November and December. You want them out there. You want to get work in. One of the best things to do is shoot the basketball. … Our guys have invested a lot of times shooting. It’s a repetition skill that needs to get done over and over. We’ve gotten better. … The shots we’re taking are good, high-percentage shots.”
DO OR DIE. WIN OR CRY.
Victims in three-straight Elite Eights, the Gators are sick of coming a matter of minutes away from the Final Four. However, according to Donovan, Florida’s players are not looking at each game in this year’s tournament as a “do or die” situation.
“I think they realize there’s an opportunity given to them and then it’s what they do with the opportunity. I don’t think our guys are wrapped up in the seeding. I don’t think they’re wrapped up in anything else other than the fact that there is an opportunity they’ve been blessed with,” he said.
“I don’t think our guys are looking at this as a ‘win or bust’ kind of thing. They’re not. I think they’re looking at this right now as we have an opportunity, what are we going to do with our opportunity and what are we going to try to chase and pursue? And you’re going to have every team in the tournament doing the same thing. But I think our guys have stayed relatively grounded on those kinds of things that probably at some point don’t really mean a lot.”
Donovan also noted that UF’s veteran leadership will help the team avoid distractions, especially those coming from media that are predicting which teams are going to get knocked out early or advance to the Final Four.
“If everybody really knew that, they should give up their job, go to [Las] Vegas and never have to work again for the rest of their life,” he joked.
“That’s the thing I think that makes the tournament so exciting is everybody’s got an opinion what’s going to happen. Everybody watches the tournament all year round because they’re going to be excited to see what happens. But the reality is those distractions you’re talking about have nothing to do with the preparation that we need to do. Whether someone picks us to go all the way to the national championship game or someone picks us to lose our first game, it doesn’t make a difference right now.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Young such a dominant post defender: “This is the difference between Chris [Walker] and Patric. Chris Walker athletically, moving, running, jumping, is an unbelievable athlete, but I would not classify him right now as an efficient mover. Patric sometimes looks like he’s struggling or laboring, but Patric is a disciplined, efficient mover. There’s no waste of motion with him. He’s really, really disciplined. He is, by far, the best guy I have ever been around in the frontcourt – and I’ll put [Joakim] Noah and [Al] Horford up there, too – he is, by far, the best guy defending the pick-and-roll.
“He’s loud, he’s vocal. We have three different coverages that we call out based on where the pick-and-roll is at. He’s the catalyst behind that. … He’s loud, he’s vocal, he gives the guards time to adjust their stance. He gets up there. Sometimes you watch Chris, just watch him, he is all over the place. And that’s where Chris can learn stuff from Patric and he can get better. The reason Patric is good at it is he is disciplined. He has a high level of communication and he really, really, really takes great pride in it. He takes great pride in defense. And then the other thing I would say is he’s an efficient mover. He really can move his feet efficiently.”
» On whether he believes he’s a better coach than in the past: “I hope so. I hope I’m better each year. I’ve never looked at, for me, the coaching part or the coaching credit, so to speak. I don’t know if I get credit or not. I’m sure maybe when we lose, I get maybe too much blame, and when we win, I probably get maybe too much praise.
“But the thing that I’ve always looked at is whether or not I get credit, what kind of impact I have made in those guys’ lives. No question that [former players I’ve coached have] developed into some outstanding players. The thing that I’m most proud about with that group is not only what they did winning-wise, but I feel like this place helped them get prepared for what they’re doing up in the NBA. I feel like their time here prepared them. … There’s a part of me that gets great satisfaction that we’ve done our job here at Florida to help them get to that point. So that’s what I look at as more of a bigger picture not what kind of credit I get. My thing is, ‘What kind of job have I done preparation-wise for those guys in the next step?’”
» On his alma mater, Providence, winning the Big East Tournament and advancing to the NCAA Tournament: “My Friars. I’m very, very happy. Very, very happy. Ed Cooley is a great guy. I’ve known Ed for a long time. My sister and he went to college together. I’ve known Ed all the way since he was an assistant for Al Skinner at Boston College. I was proud when they hired him. He’s a really, really good man, and I’m excited that we’ll get a chance this summer to work with each other with USA [Basketball]. He’s going to help us coach, which is great. I was certainly happy for my alma mater that they got in and won the Big East Tournament.”