Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Florida (#1)

Florida defense

Same desperation as above from Mike White, but not quite as successful

Again, I promise this used to be the fun part of Mike White’s coaching package. Apparently, it might be back! White earned his reputation as a bit of a defensive guru by turning Louisiana Tech’s previously unremarkable program into an absolute meat grinder. White’s final three Tech teams still own the KenPom-era program record for defensive turnover percentage, ranking 13th, 10th, and 19th. Why? Because he employed a high-pressure defense that attacked you ferociously whenever it could:

For about two seasons, White carried this over to Florida to a lot of success. The Elite Eight Gators team forced turnovers on 21% of possessions and generally restricted opponents to one-on-one scoring. Even in the half-court, they could be a terror if you weren’t prepared for battle:

And then…White mostly stopped pressing. It was pretty sudden, too: in 2017-18, Florida pressed on just 54 possessions all season long, and after a brief rebound in 2018-19 to pressing nearly 20% of the time (though very inefficiently), White re-eliminated the press in 2019-20. It wasn’t as if the Gators were short on athleticism or talent; he just didn’t want to do it anymore, I guess.

Now, in 2021, he’s brought it back. The early returns are…somewhat promising?

White’s Gators are pressing on 24% of opponent possessions, including after most free throws and a good chunk of made baskets. In a season where they’ve had foul trouble issues in most games and have struggled mightily to keep opponents off the boards, they have elevated their turnover rate from 146th last year to 72nd this season. It won’t solve everything, but it’s forcing opponents that don’t often see a full-court press to break one.

And yet: when you break it, you can score pretty easily.

Unlike Future, life is not good

For your press to work as well as it should, you either need to:

  • Force turnovers on a quarter of all possessions against the press, or;
  • Have a plan when the opponent breaks the press

Florida’s only forcing turnovers on 22.8% of possessions and ranks 43rd of 90 qualifying teams in points per possession allowed against the press. If you break it, they aren’t consistently recovering well. Let’s look at it this way: Tennessee, the team I write about when I am not writing about Florida, forces turnovers on 22.7% of their press possessions. Obviously, that’s right next to Florida in the rankings. However, Tennessee still manages to rank 3rd of those 90 teams in PPP allowed because they have a plan if the press is broken. Per Shot Quality, Tennessee forces the toughest shots of any team in America, once the shots are schedule-adjusted.

Florida likely deserves better results than what they’re received so far, but teams are getting good shots against this defense for significant stretches of games. Mississippi State barely had to feign attention to the three-point line at all because they were getting attempt after attempt at the rim:

Ole Miss nearly pulled off a mild upset doing the exact same thing:

And Alabama – yes, the same Tide that take seemingly 30 threes a game – only took 20 because Florida could not stop the Tide inside the arc for any real length of time.

44.5% of all opponent shots against Florida are layups, dunks, or putback attempts, per Hoop-Math. That’s not a rate a supposedly defensive-minded head coach would really want to sustain, and while Florida does force a solid amount of non-rim twos, it’s still pretty alarming that they don’t force a ton of dribble jumpers by way of tough closeouts and are posting a 51/49 Guarded/Unguarded rate and are giving up a metric ton of rim attempts. They’re also in the 8th-percentile of pick-and-roll defense, per Synergy, which is a pretty bad thing to be bad at in a period of basketball where 90% of offenses are built around ball-screens in the half-court.

This is a roundabout way of saying that, well, no wonder Florida’s sixth in block rate. The closer you are to the rim, the higher chance you have of your shot going in….as well as your shot getting blocked. And man, do I wonder how exhausted Colin Castleton has to be at the end of most of these games:

The same for Scottie Lewis, who is a really fun player to watch and works as hard as anybody on defense:

If Tennessee gets these same kinds of looks, they also won’t have to worry much about threes. (Florida leaves a lot of them open, as I mentioned.) While I still think there’s quite a bit of good going on defensively for Florida, the holes seem so structural and so built-in that I don’t really know where Mike White goes or what he can do from here. This is Florida.

NEXT PAGE: If politely asked, I will release my ranking of La Croix flavors. Also Tennessee’s on the next page

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