Before the start of each season, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan finds a number of issues with his team and is brutally honest about his criticisms to the public as a method of toughening up his players and motivating them to improve. Perhaps this season more than ever before, his issues are less contrived and more blatant with No. 7 Florida showing plenty of deficiencies in Thursday night’s exhibition game against Barry.
For starters, the Gators were ineffective defensively with a number of players not even caring to participate in their standard rotations. Donovan took notice and was offended by his team’s lack of mental toughness.
“I’m trying to figure out right now…are we even talented enough to play defense? Regardless of what you do or how you play defensively, you still have to go hard and you still have to do something. I think we are better than what we showed, but we’re just not tough enough, in my opinion. We’re just not tough enough,” he explained.
“When I say ‘tough enough,’ I don’t mean ‘tough enough’ in terms of like physically bodying [an opposing player]. Just like ‘tough enough’ of… If I can take three more steps to my left then I’m in a really good defensive position and I can help, but it’s just really more convenient to stay over here; that kind of mental perseverance, toughness, resiliency. … When you [don’t] do that, to me, sometimes that’s actually a reflection of what you feel about your teammates. And we got to get much, much better in terms of becoming a cohesive unit.”
Donovan has yet to share those post-game sentiments with his team – “We’re meeting Saturday, so we didn’t hear it yet. We will though,” said redshirt junior Eli Carter, who scored 21 points in his first meaningful action with the Gators – but he will have plenty to talk about with Florida when he does sit down with team over the weekend.
For instance, with Patric Young now graduated and in the NBA, Donovan does not believe the Gators have a legitimate post player on the roster who can catch the ball in the paint, turn around and make a move – even when sophomore forward Chris Walker returns from his short suspension. He was as blatant as can be when asked after the contest about Florida’s inside game this season.
“We’re not going to have one. We’re not going to have one,” he repeated. “That’s something that we’ve really got to try to figure out in terms of putting pressure at the basket. We don’t have a back-to-the-basket post player at all that we can throw the ball inside to.
“Jon Horford got it down there, he can finish around the basket if he gets on a quick move or [Dorian Finney-Smith] can finish it, but those guys are never getting deep post position. They’re uncomfortable there. Doe-Doe is probably the best that we have, but we’ve got to move the floor around a lot, we’ve got to create penetration. We got to hit guys rolling to the basket. We got to try to get to the free throw line. We’ve got to try to at least do some of those things in terms of putting pressure at the basket. You don’t have to necessarily always put pressure at the basket by throwing it inside; there’s other things you can do. We just don’t have a traditional low-post guy; we just don’t have that. … We just don’t have one.”
Indeed, Barry not only outscored UF 22-18 in the paint, it did also did so 15-13 on second chances while winning the rebounding battle 42-39 despite the Gators missing plenty of shots Thursday evening. A big reason for that? Florida attempted 37 three-pointers in the game and only made 12, going 5-for-18 (.278) in the second half alone.
Donovan did not have a particular issue with the Gators shooting that many treys. Rather, he would have preferred that those shots came as part of the process of moving the basketball around the court instead of just being jacked up early in the shot clock.
“I was fine with a lot of the threes. My thing is, when the ball is at least penetrated or at least approaches the basket or puts pressure on the defense at the basket, and then if you don’t have a shot and you kick the ball back out, those are shots you’re gonna have to take,” he said. “I thought in the second half we actually did a better job driving it. But there were times guys were really, really wide open. I’ve said this, if Michael Frazier can get off 12 three-point shots every game, I’ll be very happy.”
For what its worth, the Gators seem to understand his demands at least in that area.
“We probably should’ve gotten more going towards the basket. We probably didn’t force a lot of threes, a lot of them were open threes, just a lot of them didn’t go down. But the ones where we go to the paint and then kick out, we’ll [prefer to] take those ones,” noted redshirt senior walk-on F Jacob Kurtz.
Added Finney-Smith: “We don’t have the same personnel as last year, we ain’t got no Pat, but we do got to get more in the paint, attack the rim more and get more free throws.”
In the end though, Donovan is not concerned about Florida’s offense. Teaching offensive concepts and shot selection is relatively easy when you have players that will abide by your directives. Plus, neither coaches nor players can force the ball into the basket.
Donovan’s concerns this time of year usually revolve around defense, and while in the past he may have overstated those worries in order to motivate his team and get it in line before the start of the regular-season, this time around it seems like the Gators really do have a lot of work to do in order to live up to their consensus top-10 national ranking.
“We just got to play more connected. We got too many guys, including myself, when something isn’t going well for them on t he offensive end, then on the defensive end end they don’t play that well. I did that [Thursday night], so I have to get better at that,” said Frazier, UF’s lone returning starter from a year ago.
“We have to get better defensively as a team.”
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