It is no surprise that (1) Florida Gators sophomore guard Michael Frazier II was visibly frustrated playing against (15) Albany in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, a contest he would like to forget aside from the result.
Though the Gators won 67-55 and advanced in the event, the Great Danes showed dogged determination to eliminate Frazier from Florida’s game plan and take away the team’s most efficient offensive weapon.
Frazier, coming off a nomination to the 2014 SEC All-Tournament team for draining two-thirds of his triples (10-of-15) in a three-game span, went just 1-for-4 from long range and scored in single digits for just the 12th time in 38 games this season.
But head coach Billy Donovan was not dismayed by Frazier’s lack of production. Rather, he was impressed that Frazier continued to play with grit and did not get down even though he followed up that contest with a lackluster 2-for-9 showing from downtown two days later in what was still a 61-45 win over (9) Pittsburgh.
“We have nothing to do with what a team tries to take away from us,” Donovan explained. “Would I like Michael Frazier to knock down five, six, seven threes a game? That would be great for us. But sometimes the defense has something to do with that. If they are taking him away, the maturity thing we need to understand what else is open.
“Sometimes that is the greatest sign of respect for a player is when they try to take you out of the game. Some teams tried to do that to Michael, but we’ve still been able to move on and advance by doing different things.”
The fact that Frazier has adopted this mindset is one of the reasons that the Gators have been so effective even when he’s not putting the ball in the bottom of the net from beyond the arc. He has learned to play with pride even if he’s not shooting the ball well or failing to get off his preferred number of attempts any given night.
“If they want to do that then I understand that opens up other things for my teammates, opens up the floor, allows us to have better spacing,” he said Monday. “We can do other things on offense.”
Frazier has steadily become better at recognizing open spots on the floor and taking the ball to the hoop when an opportunity presents itself, but where he has seen the biggest jump in his game is on the defensive end of the court. A liability during his freshman season, Frazier has learned to play defense within the team concept and has taken a major step forward in is overall development because of his tremendous effort.
On a team that includes arguably the best on-ball defender in the nation in senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin and arguably the best pick-and-roll defender in senior center Patric Young, the 2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, it is Frazier who leads Florida in defensive win shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense) with 2.7 on the season.
Partially due to the fact that he does not handle the ball much, Frazier also ranks lowest among players that see significant court time in turnovers per 40 minutes and is second to Wilbekin in fouls per 40 minutes, meaning he is defending with his body and feet rather than his arms and hands.
“That’s the kind of kid he is. He loves working hard. He loves the process of working to get better and working to better himself as a player. I’ve seen that on display this year with his defense,” Wilbekin explained on Monday. “He’s just gotten so much better on defense and continued to work on his jump shot just as much as last year. That’s just who he is. … When it comes to basketball, he’s really serious.”
It should be no surprise then that all of this has come while Frazier, who Donovan often notes is the first one in and last one out of the gym for practice, continues to piece together the most dominant three-point shooting season in Gators history.
He set the SEC record for most treys in a single league game with 11 (on 18 shots at South Carolina on March 4), breaking a 28-year-old record; registered a new Florida mark for most triples in a single season (117 and counting); has set a program record for most games in a single season with five or more threes (nine and counting); and is now second in school history for three-point shooting percentage in a single season at .448.
How did Frazer rebound from his poor shooting performances in the second and third round of the tournament? He went 7-for-13 over the next two games, including draining 5-of-8 bombs against (4) UCLA, points UF sorely needed in a closer-than-the-score-makes-it-seem 79-68 victory last Thursday.
Frazier was named to the All-South Region team for his efforts after averaging 10.5 points and 4.0 boards in the four-game span while netting 10 total three-pointers.
Back in the Final Four for the first time since 2007, the Gators have the (7) Connecticut Huskies in their sights but see the opportunity for a national title in the near distance. If Florida is going to get there, the much-ballyhooed senior class will need Frazier – just like the Oh Fours relied on sharpshooter Lee Humphrey – to do some scoring, play effective perimeter defense and make big shots at opportune times, just like Frazier has done all season long.
And that’s exactly how Donovan sees it going, too, though he did make the comment before Wilbekin caught fire over the last six weeks.
“I used to say this with [Joakim] Noah and [Al] Horford: ‘It’s layups and dunks on the break and Lee Humphrey,’” he quipped back on Feb. 11.
“[Now] it’s kind of ‘layups and dunks and Michael Frazier.’
“If he’s open, I let him shoot it.”
Photo Credit: Mark Humphrey, Associated Press