5 Things We Learned from Florida's Win over Pittsburgh

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2014

5 Things We Learned from Florida's Win over Pittsburgh

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    That's more like it.

    When the Florida Gators met Albany in their first NCAA tournament game, they basically shrugged their shoulders as they pulled off a 12-point victory over their 16th-seeded opponent.

    Nobody was impressed—least of all head coach Billy Donovan, who did not see his team play with its typical fire and intensity.

    While that may have been understandable given the level of competition, the Gators certainly turned up the pressure when they met Pittsburgh in the round of 32.

    Florida mounted a sensational defensive effort and eliminated the Panthers, 61-45.

    Donovan will have plenty to focus on before his team plays in the Sweet 16, but the Gators won their 28th straight game and have a chance to fulfill expectations in the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.

Gators Were Prepared on Defense

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Florida prides itself on defense, something it proved all season long by giving up 57.9 points per game.

    That ranks third among NCAA Division I teams. The Gators decided to show Pittsburgh that ranking was not a fluke by playing hard, physical and athletic defense from start to finish.

    The Panthers were held to 45 points, and Florida contested nearly every possession. While the Panthers tried to work the ball around and find good shots, they had to take bail-out shots on most possessions because the Gators would not allow any good looks at the basket.

    The Gators limited Pittsburgh to 19-of-51 shooting (.373 field-goal percentage), largely because they contested every pass and shot.

    Much of the credit should go to center Patric Young, who blocked four shots and intimidated the Panthers throughout the game.

Florida Heard the Critics

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    While the Gators have won 28 games in a row, their performance against Albany in their opening game of the NCAA tournament drew quite a bit of criticism.

    Florida did not play with the energy or confidence that SEC opponents had seen throughout the year, and it seemed Donovan's team was going through the motions.

    The Gators did not want that to be the case against Pittsburgh. They showed their determination in the turnover department, particularly in the second half.

    They only turned the ball over once in the final 20 minutes, which was a shot-clock violation with five seconds remaining. Florida forced seven Pitt turnovers in the second half, and those mistakes led to 12 points. 

    "We just wanted to come out and not let them play harder than us or not play as hard as we can," Scottie Wilbekin told the media after the game, per The Associated Press. "I think we did a good job of having our energy up at the start of the game, and we played together on offense and played together on defense."

Work Is Needed on Offense

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    While Florida recorded a 16-point victory, the offense is anything but cohesive at this point.

    The Panthers played tough defense of their own, but it looked like the Gators had open shots throughout the game that they never felt comfortable taking.

    With a four-day break in the schedule before they play their Sweet 16 game, don't be surprised if Donovan spends much of his time in practice working on the Gators' shooting and offensive game.

    Florida made 25 of 58 shots from the field and struggled from beyond the arc, hitting just five of 20 shots. Michael Frazier II hit two three-pointers in the first half, but he was just 2-of-9 on his three-pointers throughout the game.

    Patric Young missed his first five shots and went 3-of-11 from the field. 

    If the Gators are going to fulfill expectations, they must demonstrate that they are a better offensive team.

Gators' Disciplined Approach

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    There's little doubt that the Gators play a stifling brand of defense. They don't let opponents get open shots, and they use their quickness to take the ball away.

    Teams that play with that much determination on defense often end up committing a plethora of fouls. Those teams lack the expertise and sophistication to know the difference between hard defense and reckless play.

    That's not the case with the Gators, who committed just seven fouls in the game. The Panthers went to the line six times and made just three of their free throws. No Florida player was whistled for more than two fouls in the game.

    That's extraordinary discipline on the part of Donovan's team.

Leadership Asserts Itself

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Donovan has a senior-laden team that has full confidence in its ability to make things happen all over the court. 

    When opponents try to take the ball into the paint, Young becomes the leader as he swats shots away and doesn't give up anything easily.

    However, Scottie Wilbekin is the leader the rest of the time.

    When it comes to diving after loose balls, he is going to do it. When it comes to handling the ball under pressure, he is going to break down the defense and make the play. When it comes to taking the tough shot when time is draining off the shot clock, he is not going to hesitate.

    He proved his leadership against the Panthers by scoring a game-high 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the floor. 

    Wilbekin has not always had a smooth road at Florida, but his teammates and Donovan look to him in the most crucial moments.