College basketball is a strange sport.
Basketball, in general, is a more post-season driven sport than either of America's other major team sports, but college basketball takes it to an extreme level. In the NBA, the regular season carries some meaning. Ultimately, though, a player's success is based more on the championships that he's won than the regular season accolades he's accumulated, but to some extent, a player's worth is measured by his performances in the season.
College basketball doesn't care about what happened prior to the tournament one bit, and I tried to keep that in mind while reviewing UF's less consistent, less impressive remainder of the starting five.Erik Murphy
25.9 MPG 10.5 PPG 48.5% FG 42.1% 3FG 81.4% FT 4.5 RPG 1.1 BPG
Out of all of UF's player who had to step up into a significant role this season, Murphy made the best, least expected leap. Everyone expected Patric Young to be the star after he showed flashes of his ability during stretches last year. Murphy was an unknown, and early in the season, looked like a good candidate for "frustrating player who didn't pan out". Will Yeguete was stealing most of his minutes, and outside of 3 point shots, Murphy had zero meaningful contribution to the team. That started changing in February. When Yeguete went down, it changed a lot of roles, but it probably saved Murphy as a player. Murphy stopped relying on his superb outside game, and started playing like a 6'10" forward.
That's not to say Murphy's game dramatically improved. He still has a lot of work to do. However, much like discussions regarding Brad Beal's 3 point shooting this season, Murphy deserves credit for doing things the right way. Everyone likes to harp on his outside shooting, but Erik Murphy's best asset right now is his off-ball movement. That sounds like a Dan Werner-ish endorsement, but the difference is, Murphy did things once he set the screen. If the play called for a screen and pop, Murphy took the open shot. That was a fairly limited roll (pun sorted intended), considering how well Murphy slides off of screens. However, somewhere around the awful Georgia game, I noticed a new trick in Murphy's game. He started setting screens and diving to the basket on high screens, basically running the most basic pick and roll in the book.
Maybe he always ran the high pick and roll and I never noticed, but if that was the case, Erving Walker probably wasn't noticing it either, because Murphy's 2 point FGs/game increased right before the SEC tournament. He also started pulling down consisted offensive rebounds, a good indicator of being in position, the exact position that a driving roll places a screen setter. Here's Kevin Love doing what I just tried to explain, which is fun to watch because Kevin Love is really good at pick and roll offense and basketball and life.
It's such a basic play, but it's the most popular play in the NBA for a reason. When a team is good at running the simple high screen and roll, ) the defense has to either play zone, leaving the 3 point line open, or leave the bigs without help in the lane, increasing fouls and allowing for more uncontested layups unless the defense is just scary good like the Miami Heat (no college defense is good enough for this to matter, not even Kentucky). Either way, the offense wins. When Murphy added the roll, Florida started scoring again, and more importantly started winning again.
26.5 MPG 10.2 PPG 61.8% FG 59.3% FT 6.4 RPG .8 BPG
I'm almost certain that most of Young's January–February stretch can be disregarded due to his gimpy ankle. Prior January, his only truly awful game came against Syracuse. During the Jan-Feb stretch, he failed to score in double figures ten times and failed to record more than five rebounds six times. Before conference play, all of his low scoring/low rebounding games with the exception of Syracuse came in games where Florida had amassed a very safe lead. After the UGA game, Young grabbed at least 5 rebounds in every game, with the exception of Norfolk State, another game Florida was comfortably winning.
Young didn't have a turning point moment like Murphy where something clicked and he started playing differently, but he did successfully run both the pick and roll and the fast break against Louisville. That should put any doubts of his health to rest heading into next season, as most of Young's early offensive highlight plays came on fast breaks. Overall, he had a strong tournament, even though his numbers didn't really increase from his season averages. He played a more efficient game, and managed to get to the free throw line, despite the officials' unwillingness to call defensive fouls this year.
Young is going to start the 2013 season as one of, if not the best center in the SEC, but he still has a lot of room for growth. He has virtually zero face-to-the-basket game. He showed a 10-15 foot game against weaker competition early in the season, but totally abandoned it by the time conference play started. Because Young couldn't shoot anything beyond 7 feet, his injury totally destroyed him. By working on a mid-range game, he can ensure that he doesn't disappear if he gets banged up again. Additionally, with Nerlens Noel, a true 7 footer who isn't built like a 13 year old like Anthony Davis, likely joining the SEC at Kentucky, Young will need to be more creative in his offense in order to compete against the best team in the conference.
Young also needs to be more assertive defensively. In November and December, Young looked like he was going to make the race for best center in the SEC mildly interesting. He totally lost his ability to alter shots after his injury though. Young posted 17 blocks before New Years, but he only recorded 13 more over the remainder of the season. Brad Beal recorded 18 blocks after new year and he was a 6'3" guard playing SF. Joakim Noah recorded 12 blocks in the 2007 tournament alone, and a then-record 29 in the 2006 tournament. Over 12 tournament games, Noah posted 41 blocks. Young has 61 in his 74 game career. Obviously, Noah and Young are vastly different players, but that a center can't even average 1 block per game in college is unacceptable. Young's legacy will likely hinge on how he played defensively. Right now, as a player, he's underwhelming, despite an at times dominant offensive game. The good news is that he was a decent shot blocker in 2011, showing that he has potential if he just commits to the craft.