Florida Thoughts

 


While I was watching Syracuse play Florida, I couldn’t help but think I had seen Florida’s coach somewhere before.

 


Oh that’s right, he’s that guard from Providence. Duh.

I know a lot of people had this game pegged as a very important game, and that’s understandable seeing as how this was our first game against a major conference opponent, but the truth of the matter is this was the single least important game of the season. Your shocked right? But it’s the truth. Don’t think of this game as a single game but as one half of a back to back set. Going one and one in this tournament is a perfectly acceptable result, and if we had lost we would have played Washington who we would definitely have beat (and who, by the time the season ends is going to look like just about as good of a win as Florida will). Now that we won we have to play Kansas who will be, and should be, the favorite. We don’t match up with them well. If we beat Kansas, I agree that is something to get excited about. However if we lose we will be in just about the same position as if we had lost to Florida but beat a bad Washington team.

This was a game of mismatches. Florida had nobody to guard Onuaku, but at the same time they had three tall wings who were capable of stretching our D and out-quicking our bigs. People call Floida small, but they’re actually taller than us. They’re not small, they just don’t have a pure 5. They’re tough to match up against because they have forwards with mid-major skill and high-major height. While none of them were able to handle Onuaku down low, Onuaku wasn’t able to contain any of them on the parameter. Which was one of the reasons we had to play zone.

On the other hand Onuaku had to be double-teamed every time he caught the ball, and this lead to Billy Donovan playing zone (which his team was not very good at). Syracuse made short work of their zone by passing well (thank you Devo) and rebounding well. Rautins going off during some lean moments in the first half didn’t hurt either.

On the other hand Syracuse had no answer for Calathes. The 6’6 Florida point guard was leading the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals coming into the game, and was (in my opinion) the best player on the floor tonight. He ate our man to man D apart and forced us to switch to zone, which was not a great option due to the fact that Florida’s forwards (and their ability to stretch the floor) were very well suited to play against zone. Florida’s spacing was as good as any team I have ever seen, and their “small” line up was the reason it worked.

The bottom line here is that both coaches decided that the best way to negate the other teams mismatches was to play zone. The problem for Florida was that Boeheim is the best zone coach in the nation, and Donovan is not. Game, set, match Syracuse. To be honest, after watching about 5 minutes of this game I never really thought Florida had a chance. I don’t think Syracuse played overly well, and I’m disappointed the victory wasn’t bigger than it was considering the fact that all the match ups ended up working in our favor.

 


KEY PLAYS

There were really two key stretches in this game, and both of them happened because of defensive adjustments rather than offensive adjustments.

First, at the 15 minute mark in the first half, with the game tied 7 to 7, Donovan switched to a zone D to stop us from getting the ball inside to Onuaku (which was happening too easily for his liking up to that point). The minute he switched to zone, Syracuse went on a 7 point run giving them a nice cushion. In that stretch:

Paul Harris hit a jumper.

Joseph got a lay up off an assist from Harris

Andy Rautins hit a 3.

Syracuse pretty much took the zone apart, but this didn’t stop Donovan from playing zone because shortly after that Syracuse went on a stretch where they made a few bad turnovers, and Florida masked their bad D, by ripping apart SU’s man and taking a 24-20 lead. That is when the second key moment of the game took place. SU switched to zone. For the rest of the half SU outscored Florida by 7, taking a 3 point lead. Then quickly got that lead into double figures by playing some good zone D at the start of the second half.

People seem so willing to bash the zone when the opposing team shoots well, but in this game Florida only shot 30% from three, and I have a feeling that the zone will not get the kudos it deserves even though our ability to switch to zone (and Florida’s inability to do the same) was unquestionably the difference.

Florida killed us inside in both our man and zone D. But our zone enticed them to abandon getting the ball inside and made them put up 23 three points (most of which they missed). That was huge.

 

PLAYER RANKINGS

Every player is ranked relative to the expectations I have for them. So Sean Williams might get a higher ranking than Flynn even though Flynn is obviously the better player. A 5 means the player lived up to expectations. Obviously higher than a 5 is outperforming expectations and lower than a 5 in underperforming expectations.

 

Harris: For the second game in a row Paul Harris was the best player on our team. He made a couple bad turnovers by putting the ball on the ground under the basket, but other than that he was flawless. His jumper was falling. His rebounding was absolutely game changing. And he attacked the basket better than he has done all season. For the second straight game Harris was a catalyst for getting inside the teeth of the opposing team’s zone. Its funny how the bigger the game gets the better Paul seems to play, I’ll be interested to see what he has in store against Kansas as I think he may be the ace in the hole for us against their pressure D. Ranking 8

Flynn: Did a good job of taking his offense when it was available and not forcing anything, actually he did the best job of this I have seen him do all season. However, while Florida was in zone, Flynn was absolutely anonymous. He didn’t look like a leader and he didn’t look like a point guard. He seemed much too content to pass the ball around the perimeter, and never really looked to test the zone. In the few times Flynn tried to guard Calathes one on one . . . he couldn’t. Probably for the first time all year Flynn was not the best point guard on the floor, but that didn’t stop him from making some clutch baskets going down the stretch. Ranking: 5

Devendorf: His shot wasn’t falling, but the rest of his game was great. Devo took over the reigns of the team when Flynn seemed spellbound by Florida’s zone. His ability to drive and dish was really what made our team go. He made a few of his patented lay ups, and would have been player of the game if another 3 or two had fallen. I have no complaints about his D either, against a team that posed some very difficult match up problems for him. Ranking: 6

Ongeneat: He only played 11 minutes for two reasons, one, Boeheim didn’t want him in the game against the Florida zone, and two Boeheim didn’t want him in the game against the Florida press. However, for the 11 minutes Ongeneat did play, he played great. He is definitely the best defensive player on our team (Tyus wouldn’t have had 24, or anywhere close to that had Ongeneat played 30 minutes). And he looked the best on offense I have seen him look all year, scoring 5 points in the scant playing time he got. Ranking: 8

Onuaku: Missed a few shots he normally makes, but this was the third game out of three that the team Syracuse played had to alter their entire defensive game play to stop him. Its important not to underestimate this fact. When the opposing D is focused on not allowing the ball inside, it’s a lot easier for the guys on the perimeter to do their job. Harris, Flynn, and Rautins all owe a thank you to the big guy, who so far looks like he cant be stopped. Like Harris, Onuaku’s rebounding ability seems to get a turbo boost from playing superior competition, and that was evident in the game tonight even though Onuaku was pulled away from the basket a lot by the quick Florida bigs who were a threat to make open jumpers. Ranking: 7

Rautins: I mentioned in my last article that Rautins shooting tends to improve as the competition improves, and this was the case tonight. His five first half 3’s came at a time when the rest of the offense was struggling and we really needed them. I thought Rautins would have to play well for us to win, considering how much Florida was going to have to collapse against Onuaku. And I’m really not surprised that his shooting came back to life. What I am surprised about is how much time Rautins saw at the 3, and how well he played there. Rautins really held his own defensively and on the boards against the tall Florida forwards who all measure 6’8 or higher. His ability to play the 3 was something I doubted, but something which will undoubtedly give us some pretty potent offensive options as the year goes on. Ranking: 8

Jackson: This was another one of those games where Jackson was not a suitable option at the 4. And it was another game where we couldn’t afford to sit Onuaku for long stretches. It was bound to be a quiet game for Jackson, but I thought he played relatively well in the few minutes he got. Ranking: 5

Joseph: A player of unending offensive gifts, Joseph really helped us handle Florida’s press and zone D. He has a real nose for the ball on offense, consistently getting in good position to grab offensive boards, and showing the athleticism to out jump his opponents and put the ball back in the basket with ease once the shot is missed. However, Joseph surrendered just as many points on the defensive end as he accounted for on the offensive end. Not with a lack of defensive skill, but with an inability to pull down the defensive board. While his instincts are good, right now Joseph is consistently getting out muscled in the battle for rebounding position. I think Ongeneat was the better player tonight, but Boeheim clearly loves Joseph’s game (and with good reason) and wants to give him the chance to prove he belongs playing against the toughest competition. So far Joseph has done that and more. Ranking 6