Hold on, I'm trying to stop laughing from hearing so many people say that "Florida did not play well" or that "Florida did not impress them" last night in their 65-57 Sweet Sixteen victory over Butler.
Why, may I ask, was this an unimpressive performance? Because the guys in orange and blue only scored 65? Because they were trailing the Bulldogs at certain points in the game?
Here are a couple points for those who are down on the Gators' performance last night in St. Louis:
- It's the Sweet F'n Sixteen -- meaning that at all times you will be playing one of the best sixteen teams in the Nation. And trust me, Butler is well-worthy of that particular title.
- Butler only gave up a little over 56 points per game to their opposition coming into last night's contest. There were no indications that this was going to be a shootout and Florida was going to score a ton of points.
- Butler shoots the three-pointer fairly well, and is dependant on those shots to win games. When they were hitting threes in last night's game the Bulldogs were grabbing the lead. That's expected against a team that can go on three-point runs and play very good defense.
For example, let us look at the performance of star Butler guard A.J. Graves, the player that is the spark-plug for the Bulldogs' offensive attack:
38 minutes, 4-13 shooting, 1-6 three-point shooting, 11 points, 2 assists
The Gators used a fairly eccentric zone defense for a very large majority of the game, including using big-man Joakim Noah around the perimeter on defense. Noah used his length to deny Graves good shooting looks from beyond the arc, and the guards on the perimeter did a great job of locking down on the Bulldogs' leading scorer. Sure, they gave up some layups to Graves, but overall they defensed him perfectly by not allowing him to get hot from three-point land.
Mike Green, Butler's second-leading scorer, shot 4-12 from the field, including 0-3 from beyond the arc. The Gators' defense did an amazing job last night of shutting down the two best players for the Bulldog offense. And for this the defensive performance gets a big thumbs-up from this, I'll admit it, somewhat optimistic fan.
On the offensive side of the ball we saw the Gators struggle a bit out of the gates -- which I contend would happen to any team that plays at a somewhat average pace or quicker. The beginning of the game saw the Gators turning the ball over more than they should have been, and shooting pretty poorly from the field.
Butler did a great job of denying the pass into the post players last night, and I felt that the Gators were a little intimidated by that to start the game. The swarming Bulldogs' defense was basically taking out the Gators strength, their size, by avoiding Al Horford or Joakim Noah doing anything productive in the early minutes -- a great strategy. Once Horford and Noah showed how easily they could assert their force underneath, it became a necessity for those two to touch the ball everytime down the floor.
Butler was undersized last night, particularly underneath, and the Gators took full advantage of it. They got the ball inside, despite the Bulldogs trying their best to avoid it, and our big-men drew fouls -- and more importantly hit their free-throws (the team was 23-28 on the game) -- leading to the victory. Once again, this draws a big thumbs-up.
This was the slowest pace the Gators played at all season, by far (Pomeroy has it listed at 53). This match up was not going to be easy by that fact alone, but the Gators found a way to overcome the pace and methodical style of play from Butler and advance to the Elite Eight to play Oregon.
If last night's game showed us a Florida team that was not playing well, then I would love to see this team perform at their best. Especially at a more average tempo -- something that the Oregon game will give them.
I'll try to get a quick look at the Ducks a little later on today. Until then, enjoy some good Elite Eight basketball this evening.