Show Me My SEC Tournament Opponent, 2020-21: Florida

Florida defense

Still rock-solid, though it does have flaws

On this side of the ball, I didn’t believe Florida had a bad day in Knoxville. In fact, I actually really liked most of what Florida did. Tennessee began to get things rolling in the second half thanks to the best shot perception they’ve displayed in two months. However, despite having no Mann, Florida forced turnovers on 20.5% of Tennessee possessions and did an excellent job in the first half in particular of forcing several really bad Tennessee possessions that went one-and-done. Look away from whatever you’d call this, fellow analytics nerds:

An opponent can only control so much of the offensive shot selection, and largely, Florida has allowed a shot selection split on the season that looks pretty similar to what Tennessee has displayed in both of their games against the Gators. The main difference in this one: Tennessee made a few tough layups and Florida came away with four fewer blocks. Judging by play types, Tennessee didn’t really change up too much from the first time they faced Florida; they just got better, more consistent looks. Also, John Fulkerson went buckwild.

Florida’s ability to be consistently good (not even great) on defense is pretty remarkable. Torvik rates all of their last nine 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 – seven of the last ten 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:

Fouls and defensive rebounding are proving to be serious issues

They’re just…fine, pretty much everywhere, though 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 31.3% of their misses, which ranks 289th of 347 teams nationally. Tennessee utterly demolished the Gators in this department last Sunday, and Vanderbilt (or Texas A&M) – a team not exactly known for being a real bother on the boards – had some serious success yesterday, too. Had Florida been missing Castleton like they were in the first game, I’d get it, but I think it’s more about Florida simply not having a truly great defensive rebounder on the entire roster.

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.

Tennessee got above 1 PPP against this group last time, but not by much; it took a lot of offensive rebounds to overcome a pretty annoying 3-for-21 day from downtown. (You’ll be floored to hear that 11 of Tennessee’s 18 catch-and-shoot threes were open and even more floored to find out they made 1 of these 11 attempts.) Across two games against Florida, Tennessee is 6-for-39 from downtown. That’s just not sustainable, and you’d imagine that eventually, Tennessee’s going to get hot from three, just as they did against Auburn, just as they did against Georgia. It comes for every opponent, and it will eventually come for the Gators.

NEXT PAGE: Win the game

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