The Florida Gators have one of the most suffocating defenses in college basketball, and they used their might to break the will of the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday. The Gators defeated the Vols 67-41 while holding Tennessee to only 26.8 percent shooting. At one point in the second half, the Vols didn’t look like they even wanted to be on the floor. This wasn’t the first time, nor the last time this season that you will see the Gators dominate a team into submission.
The calling-card for the Gators has always been their offense, but this season’s success is based in their tough defense. Florida is 12th in the NCAA in opponents scoring per game (59.8) and are 40th in opponent field goal percentage (39.5 percent). Whenever teams go up against the Gators, they are going to be tortured by an in-your-face press, a press that doesn’t stop once you get past half-court, Florida will continue to trap and force you to throw long passes that allow them to recover and trap again.
On Saturday, the Gators forced the Vols into committing 13 turnovers, while also forcing Tennessee to use three timeouts to avoid a 10-second violation. On the season, the Gators are forcing 14.1 turnovers per game, which is only 108th on the year, but once you factor in that Florida plays at the 316th fastest pace in college basketball, that number seems even higher. According to KenPom.com, the Gators are 24th nationally in defensive turnover percentage.
When the Vols got the ball into the frontcourt, they still had issues getting points on the board. Tennessee had 13 turnovers, but only four were because of Florida steals. Florida doesn’t block a ton of shots or get a lot of steals, but they force you to use the entire shot-clock, and attempt difficult passes, which lead to shot-clock violations, bad shots and turnovers. The Vols had 41 misses against Florida, and only 18 of those were three-pointers. Florida forces you to shoot long threes or contested shots in the lane. They mix up their defense from a 2-3 zone, to a 1-3-1 zone and even man-to-man. You can try all you want to prepare for this defense, but you have no idea what you are in for until the ball gets tossed up in the air.
The aggression that the Gators play with on defense is unmatched in the SEC. There is no team that plays even close to as good as the Gators play on defense, and they are starting to separate themselves from the pack overall as well. Florida is currently ranked sixth in the country, and they have a one-game lead over the closest competitor in the SEC, Kentucky. After seeing what the Gators did to a very good Tennessee team on Saturday, it is hard to imagine anyone else winning the conference. The Gators are well on their way to their fourth straight Elite Eight.