Beating a Virginia team low on numbers and a 15-seed in Norfolk State won’t resonate much nationally when discussing Florida’s chances of beating 3-seed Marquette on Thursday in Phoenix.
But if there’s one thing that should be taken out of the Gators’ play in Omaha it’s that they defended at a level that far exceeded what they’d done over the ten games prior to the NCAA tournament.
In six of those games Florida allowed opponents to shoot 48% or better, including a stretch of four straight games in which the opposition shot 52% or better from the field.
In their 84-50 win over Norfolk State on Sunday, Florida limited the Spartans to 27.3% shooting and 4 of 24 from three, which followed a 38% defensive showing against Virginia on Friday.
“I think right now we’re playing at a high level but we need to keep it consistent and it’s going to come together one of these next few games,” said guard Kenny Boynton, who led the way with 20 points.
Billy Donovan has multiple scoring options led by guards Boynton and Erving Walker, wing Bradley Beal and forward Patric Young.
But without the services of arguably their best defender in Will Yeguete, who is out for the season with a broken foot, it took some time for Florida to adjust. This weekend in Omaha they had the look of a team that knew who it was.
“When he got hurt it changed our team and there was an adjustment period,” said Donovan. “I think we’re playing better because we’ve played more games without him. We have a better understanding of our role and what needs to be done.”
Three players grabbed at least eight rebounds against Norfolk State: Beal (9), Boynton (8) and Erik Murphy (8), who also scored ten points.
The recent play of Casey Prather will also help the Gators next week, but it’s clear that Florida’s intensity on the defensive end will determine whether or not they continue to advance.