Entering Thursday night’s game with St. Bonaventure in Lakeland (7:00 p.m., SEC Network+ or WatchESPN), Florida’s men’s basketball team finds itself in a familiar situation: Its defense is way ahead of its offense.
Through two games, that actually seems more like a feature than a bug. Florida played ferocious defense in Jacksonville over the weekend, forcing turnovers on nearly 27 percent of its defensive possessions and recording 19 steals and 15 blocks against Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer, two mid-majors with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Florida allowed just 113 points over those two contests, and its per-possession defense was even better that number would suggest, as the Gators gave up just under 0.84 points per possession over those games. To put that in perspective, Wichita State had 2015-16’s stingiest defense in Division I — and the Shockers gave up a little more than 0.87 points per possesion.
That defense, which has seemingly carried over from the final years of Billy Donovan’s time in Gainesville to the first two of Mike White’s, has made up for a lot of woes on offense. And the Gators had those in Duval, too: Florida shot just over 40 percent from the field and exactly 30 percent from three in those wins.
But this team also seems to have continued success on the offensive boards — where the Gators excelled at times in 2015-16 — and shored up a weakness at the foul line. Florida hauled down 35 offensive boards in the two games, posting at least a 38.5 percent rate in each contest, and made 44 of 56 free throws.
The Gators’ current free-throw percentage, a gaudy 78.6 percent, would have been second nationally in 2015-16. And while that number is likely to drop — unless you think Kevarrius Hayes is going to make 83 percent of his free throws, and John Egbunu 75 percent of his, anyway — even losing five percent from that mark would be a sea change from the disastrous 64.8 percent that Florida shot at the charity stripe last year.
St. Bonaventure, like Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer before it, must think it has a shot at both knocking off the Gators before a meager neutral-site crowd and ultimately making March Madness — and the Bonnies might well be better than both the Eagles and Bears. Their 22-8 mark a year ago came with an Atlantic 10 regular-season title, and they narrowly missed dancing last year, thudding to a halt with losses in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and NIT.
Combo guard Jaylen Adams figures to be the frontman for the Bonnies. After becoming one of the A-10’s best scorers in 2015-16, Adams scored 23 points and posted an Offensive Rating of 120 against St. Francis of Pennsylvania in the Bonnies’ opener last week despite sinking just one of seven threes. Backcourt mate Matt Mobley drained five of his 10 triples, though, giving St. Bonaventure two of their three 20-point scorers — forward Denzel Gregg, who made 10 of 13 twos, was the third — in a 92-82 win over the Red Flash.
If Florida can limit Adams and Mobley, it should be able to once again win inside. Only two rotation players for the Bonnies stand taller than 6’7”, and they coughed up 12 offensive rebounds to an even smaller St. Francis lineup.