Thursday night, Florida "opened" its 2014-15 men's basketball season with a 79-70 win over Division II Barry University.
And Billy Donovan was upset.
Here's a collection of Donovan quotes from that link:
"I’m trying to figure out right now is, are we even talented enough to play defense?" Donovan asked afterward.
"When you look down the stat sheet, we were not balanced at all on offense. I get that. I understand. Those are things we can correct," Donovan said. "I’m much, much more concerned about Michael Frazier’s defense, Eli Carter’s defense, [freshman forward] Devin Robinson’s defense. I don’t know how many guys -- I’ll go back and watch the film -- but there were some guys who really stood out."
"When you’re not a very good defensive team, it’s amazing just how the ball goes into the basket for the other team," said Donovan, whose team nonetheless held the Bucs to 38.7-percent shooting for the game and just 23.1 from the 3-point line. "Last year’s team, the ball rarely went into the basket for our opponent. But when you are really bad defensively, the ball just kinda finds its way in the basket all of the time. It does."
Whoa, right? A nine-point win by Florida in an exhibition game and that kind of concern about defense from Billy Donovan? Sounds like things are gonna go poorly for the Gators this year.
Here's a collection of things Donovan said after Florida's exhibition win over Florida Southern in 2013:
"There are some things that have limited our development because of our numbers," UF coach Billy Donovan said after watching his team of nine players, including a pair of walk-ons, scrap and battle in front of a paid crowd of 7,523. "We are behind."
"It looked like a couple years ago when we were like 11th in the league in defending the 3," Donovan said. "We’re going to have to do a better job."
And here's a collection of things Donovan said after Florida's 77-69 season-opening win over North Florida in 2013:
"I was really disappointed in our team tonight," Donovan said after the 10th-ranked Gators not only let North Florida back in the game, but let the Ospreys hang around before finishing off a 77-69 win Friday before 10,550 at the O’Connell Center. "That’s about as disappointed as I’ve been."
"Sometimes, we’re just lost out there," said Donovan, who last year had the luxury of an older, senior-laden team with players like Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario who possessed seasoned basketball IQs that several in this new group just do not have yet. "We are light years away from being a good defensive team. We’re light years away from being a ranked team."
"My expectations are based on what our team looks like, what they’re capable of and whether they’re playing at the level you expect them to," Donovan said. "I thought there were times [Friday] we had guys not playing up to their standards."
Billy does this, in other words. It's who he is, especially early in the season.
And it's silly to overreact to what Donovan is saying — a harsh truth designed to motivate his team to get better — without realizing that it's worked out for the Gators many times before this.
I didn't watch, and haven't watched, this game. But it went about how I expected it to go, with Florida throwing a bunch of new bodies on the floor in its defensive system, missing paint potentate Chris Walker, and not having defensive ace DeVon Walker. Florida lost five plus defenders (four of them plus-plus defenders, arguably) from a great defensive team in 2013-14, and last night, it did basically what that 2013-14 team did on defense early on.
In this game, Florida allowed Barry to take 26 threes (and make only six); the Gators allowed 30 to Florida Southern in 2013, and another 24 to UNF. Florida got beaten on the offensive and defensive boards with alarming frequency in this game; it was worse inside against UNF than it was last night. Florida bailed itself out with three-pointers last night (12 of them, though on 37 attempts); it used Casey Prather as a weapon in those first two games last year.
So Florida needs to improve on defense, but seems to have a core competency on offense it can fall back on. And Florida has been known to recover, despite Donovan's doom-saying, before. Plus, this team's actually missing more as currently constituted than last year's team was, at least early on: Kasey Hill being around early on made Scottie Wilbekin's suspension easier to take than Walker's is, because Walker is more unlike any other Florida player than Wilbekin was, and Alex Murphy not yet being eligible to play robs Florida of the veteran hybrid forward that would make lineup decisions and defensive rotations a lot easier for Donovan.
Florida got what it needed to win, and got a really good performance from Eli Carter, whose 21 points came with him going 7-for-12 from the field and 5-for-9 from the arc, and it gave Donovan more tangible reason to ride his players about defense.
Why should we worry, again?