No. 7-seed Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Erving Walker and junior guard Kenny Boynton took the podium in Phoenix, AZ on Wednesday do discuss their upcoming Sweet 16 game against the No. 3-seed Marquette Golden Eagles on Thursday at 10:17 p.m. The game, which is part of the West Region of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, will air live on TBS.
BUZZ WILLLIAMS THE ODD MAN OUT
There is no denying that the West Region’s Sweet 16 is filled with three of the most accomplished active college basketball coaches – Florida’s Donovan, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo – and then Marquette’s Buzz Williams. Asked how he compares with the other three, Williams was humble and praised their accomplishments.
“I don’t belong. I don’t compare,” he said. “Those three guys are the ultimate example of what this business should be about as people, the ultimate example of what it should be about as coaches. I have great admiration for them. I have studied them throughout my career as guys that you yearn to be somewhat like. Relative to: Buzz, Donvoan, Izzo and Pitino, which one doesn’t belong? That’s the easiest question to answer.”
Though that may be the case, Donovan is impressed with Williams’s accomplishments so far and believes he can reach the next level if he keeps working toward that goal. “Everybody has to start somewhere. All of us – Coach Pitini, Tom Izzo, myself, Buzz. You have to start somewhere. Buzz has done a phenomenal job with Marquette since he took over for Tom Crean,” he said.
Donovan also discussed how much of an influence Pitino has had on him as a person and his career as a basketball coach. “I’m incredibly impacted by him not even so much with the basketball part of it,” he said. “I look at myself as maybe not being a high-profile player and what he was able to do to me and the way he was able to transform me. I think that’s where it starts for me in our program work-ethic wise, getting guys that love the game, that want to get better, want to improve and want to invest that kind of time. The other part of it for me with him was game preparation, scouting, individual player development, practices – all those things.”
WILBEKIN BREAKING OUT AT THE RIGHT TIME
While another Gators’ guard is also having a nice tournament, sophomore PG Scottie Wilbekin
continues to have a breakout season. Not only is Wilbekin shooting the best percentage from three on the team (.444), he has been even more efficient in the postseason, connecting on 55.5 percent of his shots (5-of-9) from downtown.
Even with his stellar shooting being the area in which he has improved the most, Wilbekin’s defense is what earns the most praise from his coach and teammates.
“When a guy bypasses his senior year in high school, the first thing you worry about is if he’s physically strong enough, if he’ll get knocked around and what kind of foot speed does he have. The one thing that enabled him to play last year and now this year is he’s a great defender with great feet and he’s also a physically strong guard, he can physically defend,” Donovan said. “He has been one of our better defenders on the perimeter the last couple of years, and he takes great pride in that. His offense has continued to get better. We can put him on a lot of different people and he can really defend.”
Walker recognized this proficiency as well. “I think Scottie has improved a great deal since he first came here,” he said. “He’s always been a great defender, but I think his offense is improving game-by-game and he’s playing with a lot of confidence.” Boynton was more focused on his shooting, of course. “I think Scottie, he made a big jump skipping his senior year in high school. When he came into college, he worked hard and he’s handled it well. Lately he’s been hitting some outside shots and I think as the year has gone on, his offense has gotten better and better,” he added.
FLORIDA’S EFFICIENCY VS. CROWDER’S EFFECTIVENESS
Williams is extremely concerned about Florida’s offense. Coaches often know the opposition’s statistics off the top of their heads when preparing for a game, but every time Williams mentioned one on Wednesday, he looked slightly deflated at what his team would have to go up against. He was impressed that a team like UF could not only be so efficient on offense but also on the offensive glass when not getting shots in the net.
“They’re really good. A lot has been made of how many threes they shoot and how many threes they make. Their perimeter players have shot 53 percent of their shots [from three] and they’ve made 37 percent of them. They make a lot of threes and they make a lot of dunks,” he said. “A lot of that comes from transition, and if it doesn’t come from transition it is going to come from a ball screen. I think that Coach Donovan has been ahead of the curve relative to college basketball in doing a lot of the same things that are done in the NBA.
“We reverse the ball side-top-side typically off the pass and they reverse the ball side-top-side off the ball screen. If you can’t slow them down or stop them in transition, your ball screen coverage has to be superb. Because if it forces you into rotation, they’re either going to make a dunk or make an uncontested three. They rebound 38 percent of their misses – that’s a very high number. Long shots equal long rebounds, but if they’re shooting 37 percent from the three and 53 percent of the shots that those guys shoot are threes but yet they’re rebounding 38 percent of those misses, that’s really, really good.”
Donovan is equally worried except his concerns are mostly about Marquette F Jae Crowder, who scores 17.6 points while averaging 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He is also shooting 50.4 percent from the floor and 35.3 percent from beyond the arc.
“He impacts the game maybe more so than any other player in the country in every facet,” Donovan said of Crowder. “He’s a tremendous offensive rebounder. He’s a great defender. He comes up with loose basketballs, deflections. He is a great outlet passer to start the break. He has incredible stamina with the way he can run up and down the floor. He shoots threes; he puts it down [on the floor]. Maybe the most underrated part of his game is he’s a phenomenal passer. He really can impact the game in just about every possible way. I love his motor and love how hard he plays and love the way he competes.”
Crowder also spoke about playing the Gators but took a slight shot at the team while doing so. “They are a great offensive team. They lack a few things defensively,” he said. “Of course, they bring great pressure in the frontcourt and try to get you rattled a little bit. I think if we handle that, we’ll get a lot of things we want offensively.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Former Florida center Neal Walk was on-hand to watch the Gators practice for the Sweet 16 game, according to The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway. Walk, the highest-drafted UF player in team history (No. 2 overall) lives in Phoenix and had said he was “pleased that I can see them up close.” He also spoke to Brockway about Donovan. “He has taken the program and put it among the elites,” Walk said. “I know that guys of my time are very happy that Florida basketball is now able to be mentioned with Florida football.”
» Donovan on struggling at the end of the regular season and turning things around: “Certainly as it relates to wins and losses, no, we did not close out the regular season very well. […] I saw our team making strides and getting better. The biggest thing I try to do is I try to keep their confidence level high that they were doing the right things and these were the things that we really needed to confront and get better at to kind of push us over the hump a little bit.”
» Walker on Florida not panicking after the tough end to the regular season: “We definitely didn’t hit the panic button but we knew it was time to buckle down, listen to coach and have some great practices before we got to the NCAA Tournament. I think it has definitely paid off for us.”
» Donovan on sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather’s illness: “He’s fine now. It shouldn’t’ be a problem. […] He’s 100 percent and hasn’t missed anything since [the third-round game].”
» Donovan on if it is tougher to build a program up or maintain a high level of success: “It’s always harder to try and maintain, in my opinion. The reason I say that is that, when you’re trying to build something, once you’ve built something, trying to maintain it is so difficult because there are so many peaks and valleys and there are drop-offs. The energy and the passion and the drive that it takes day-in and day-out to try to maintain something is very difficult. You can get to the pinnacle and then, a lot of times, there’s going to be a dip and there’s going to be a drop. Do you have the energy to try and build back up or maintain where it’s been?”
» Donovan on the role that conditioning will play in the game: “The game will certainly be a fast game. With the way we play and the way that they play, conditioning probably in both of our practices will probably be a premium. You’re doing that in practice where you’re trying to condition to play that way. That’s the thing that’s so impressive with Crowder is how many minutes he can actually stay on the floor with the intensity level he plays at.”
» Williams on if his team can keep up with UF’s conditioning: “They’ll play more guys that will play more meaningful possessions than we will. […] I don’t think because of how we operate that conditioning is going to be a problem.”