Almost universally good with little variance
Part of being a college basketball fan is having to remember that there’s a lot of outliers and extremes that happen pretty much every night. Expecting 18-to-22 year-olds to be consistent for four straight months is pretty hilarious, because you were 19 once and would happily take a night off studying to play Halo or something. College basketball teams are no different. Some nights they’re perfect; some nights they look awful. It simply is what it is when you choose to follow one of the highest-variance sports there is.
Which is a long way of saying that Florida’s ability to be consistently good (not even great) on defense is pretty remarkable. Torvik rates all of their last eight performances under 1 PPP after adjusting for opponent, and only one of their last 12 fixtures has gone above this 1 PPP mark (a 92-84 road win over a bad Georgia team). This isn’t to say that they haven’t actually given up 1+ PPP to opponents – six of the last nine have done so – but rather that these performances represent an above-average, good night.
Florida’s ability to pretty much never be truly wretched on D, save for the Georgia game and a horrid home performance against Kentucky, is honestly impressive. Their off-nights aren’t really destructive; had Florida not managed to shoot 35.7% from two across a pair of games against Alabama and Kentucky, they probably could’ve hung around to the very end in one or the other. Their worst performance over the last two months, the Georgia game, ended in victory. Aside from blocking a lot of shots at the rim, it’s not as if they do a lot of special stuff:
They’re just…fine, pretty much everywhere.
Struggling with fouls and with defensive rebounding
Still, there are some trouble spots that keep them from being excellent. Florida still has a similar issue as the last time they played Tennessee, in that opponents get a lot of attempts at the rim (over 41% on the year) and while Colin Castleton and Omar Payne are both good rim protectors, neither can be perfect. This has led Florida to rank 282nd in opponent Free Throw Rate, and their inability to stop fouling at times has single-handedly kept some opponents in games:
Florida doesn’t seem to force a ton of mid-range jumpers to help alleviate this; only 25.5% of opponent shots are non-rim twos and Florida blocks those pretty well, too. Opponents feel like they can get to the rim and either get fouled or put up a good attempts against a Florida frontcourt that only has one true rim protector on the court at all times. Castleton and Payne are both very good, but they can get overworked quickly. Of all teams, South Carolina is probably the one to most effectively display this:
Along with that, Florida has had some surprisingly real troubles in protecting their own boards. Florida allows opponents to rebound 31.1% of their misses, which ranks 285th of 347 teams nationally. Seven of their last eight opponents have gotten to at least 30% in this metric, and even Tennessee got to 36.2% when they played in Gainesville in mid-January. I think this probably goes back to Florida only having one true rebounding big out there at all times, but the other issue is that for whatever reason, neither Castleton nor Payne are very good defensive rebounders. Offensive, yes, but they’ve been pushed around on the defensive side:
The other thing you can do well against Florida is force them to over-commit on ball screens, which you can use to kick out for an open shot or drive. Tennessee doesn’t really do this, but sometimes in life, you have to dream.
Lastly, I like ending on positives, so I’d like to say that Florida’s defense really has regained some of the edge it had in the first couple of seasons under Mike White. They’re back to forcing lots of turnovers (20.9% TO%, 66th-best) and have brought back a bit of a press defense. I’m not sure that it always works – despite forcing a good amount of turnovers, it only ranks in the 64th-percentile per Synergy – but it does provide the desired result a good amount of the time.
As much as I’d like to see it happen, this is probably not the game for Tennessee to have an offensive breakout. However, I think it’s also pretty likely that Tennessee is not nearly as bad offensively as they were last time out. They’ll probably end up somewhere between 0.98-1.1 PPP, just like six of Florida’s last eight opponents have. Nothing special, but it gets the job done.
NEXT PAGE: Please win. Also Tennessee is on the next page