With just under 10 minutes on the clock in the first half, Florida and Virginia were tied at 13. Over the next 12 minutes of game time, Florida went on a 27-4 run that essentially ended the game. Darius Thompson scored for the Cavaliers with 5:04 remaining in the first half, and Virginia didn’t score again until there was 17:35 left in the game.
How did Florida do it? And can they replicate it against Wisconsin?
To both questions, I say yes.
Virginia’s MO under Tony Bennett is, and has been, to slow the game down and grind you out defensively. Wisconsin is going to try to do that, too. Just how similar are the Badgers and Cavaliers? On KenPom, both have top 10 defenses, are in the bottom 20 in tempo, and are among the ten slowest offenses in the country by average possession length.
Mike White and the Gators do not have to even change the game plan. Get to FedEx Kinkos, make another batch of copies of the Virginia strategy, and get to New York City safely. That is how Florida advances to the Elite Eight.
So, what was this game plan? If you were like most college basketball fans on Saturday night, you watched the conclusion of Butler-Middle Tennessee, then flipped over to Arizona-Saint Mary’s because, while Butler closed out its win, Florida put the smacketh down on Virginia. What you missed: Florida turning defensive stops into fast break/quick offense opportunities. Any time the Gators were given a chance to run, they took advantage, until the lead was extended to 20+ and Florida slowed it down to seal the victory.
After losing starting center John Egbuno for the season in late February, Florida lost 3 of 4 heading into the NCAA Tournament. However, it seems they have adjusted to life without Egbuno with stout team defense and speed. Freshman Gorjok Gak played a total of 16 minutes in 2017 prior to the NCAA Tournament, but has played 17 minutes in the first two rounds. In the below clip, Gak steps up as Devon Hall drives past Keith Stone (great name), forcing Hall to turn it over. Chris Chiozza takes the outlet and races down the floor.
In the next clip, Kevarrius Hayes serves as the rim protector, with Kasey Hill also faking at a driving Marial Shayok. The Virginia junior spins away from the help defense and takes a tough left handed shot. Again, Chiozza takes off running down the floor with the outlet into a quick pick-and-pop with Justin Leon.
Florida takes a big lead at this point, putting Virginia into a deep hole. London Perrantes puts up a long three here, and the Gators take the rebound and move quickly up the floor – but there is zero rush. Kasey Hill breaks the double team easily, and simply takes what the Virginia defense is giving him. Hill kicks the ball to KeVaughn Allen, and Justin Leon is again left open in the corner.
Florida played out of its mind, but it all stemmed from moving the ball down the floor and keeping the opposition at a tempo the Cavaliers were not comfortable playing. Once more, junior guard Chris Chiozza strides down the floor and takes advantage of the defensive breakdown.
Of course, keeping the Sweet Sixteen matchup up-tempo won’t be easy. Wisconsin will try to slow the game down and put Florida into its halfcourt offense. Mike White does not want his team getting into a 30-second possession battle because it is a game the Gators likely lose. When put into those situations, though, Florida has answers. Kasey Hill is dangerous in a pick-and-roll, as shown here when Virginia struggles to keep in front of him. Kevarrius Hayes is left open on his roll to the hoop, and Hill finds him to end the first half on a high note.
Also, when the pick-and-roll isn’t effective, Kevarrius Hayes is able to put his back to the basket and use his athleticism to score, as he does here with a drop step over Jack Salt.
Florida has a number of weapons – and is much better suited to do what Villanova could not against Wisconsin: speed the game up. I firmly expect Mike White to double down on his gameplan against Virginia when the Gators take the floor at Madison Square Garden this weekend.
Get ready, Florida fans. You are getting closer to a trip to Phoenix.