Maybe it’s their underachieving nature and lack of flashy offense.
Maybe it’s because of the quality and margin of their wins.
Maybe they’ve been looked over because of the down nature of their conference this season. Or, maybe, people aren’t convinced they have the talent to advance any further than this weekend.
Whatever the reason, Billy Donovan and his Florida Gators are not getting a lot of love from the pundits as they prepare to make another run at the Final Four.
In most expert circles Florida has been an afterthought, even though it is making its ninth Sweet Sixteen appearance — the seventh with Donovan at the helm.
To add insult to injury, the Gators are barely mentioned in coverage of their own game this Friday. That’s because their opponent, Florida Gulf Coast University, has become the exalted Cinderella team of this tournament with the high-flying dunks and double-digit upsets over Georgetown and San Diego State. Plus, FGCU’s coach is a former Wall Street executive and self-made millionaire who took his supermodel wife to Taco Bell on their first date. It’s tough to generate any buzz when you’re going up against that story.
But the lack of respect many are showing Florida is puzzling. Donovan is, after all, the second most successful coach left in the field. He is the only one not named Mike Krzyzewski who has more than one NCAA Championship and one of the few in the modern era of college basketball to win two titles back-to-back.
But you don’t have to retreat to the Joakim Noah era to see why Donovan and the Gators should be taken seriously. This is their fourth tournament appearance since those championship years and their third trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Last season and in 2011, they made it to the Elite Eight despite being underdogs all the way.
Granted, this Florida squad hasn’t put up gaudy numbers. Its center, Erik Murphy, is the leading scorer with a modest 12.8 points a game. It’s good production, but not great. By contrast, FGCU’s leading scorer, the flashy guard Sherwood Brown, averages 15.8 points a game, and Ole Miss’s Marshall Henderson, who had arguably the greenest light in the tournament before the Rebels were eliminated, averaged 20.1.
But Florida also has guards Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton who average 12.5 and 12.1 points per game, respectively, as well as forward Patric Young who averages 10.3 per outing.
Scottie Wilbekin, the fifth man on the floor for most Florida’s minutes, averages 9.2 points a game. If you’re into mapping and graphical representations, that is what’s called straight-line dispersion.
Because the Gators spread the scoring almost evenly among their starting five, no one player stands out and very few plays make the halftime highlight reels. This is not a team that beats you with high-flying showmanship. There are very few rafter-raising dunks or record-setting three-pointers.
They are a team that spreads the ball efficiently and plays solid defense every trip down the floor. And they are a team that scores more points than their opponents on most occasions.
In the end, there are no style points awarded on the scoreboard. Donovan and the Gators win the old fashioned way – with solid fundamentals.
UPS is using Donovan in an ad campaign during the tournament. In the ads, the coach preaches the value of fundamentals and how important it is for a team to master the boring stuff.
“You have to be so good at the fundamentals that you could do them in your sleep,” Donovan says in the ad. If those lines were scripted, then Donovan helped write them. They are as much a part of his persona as his rapid-fire New York accent and his high-and-tight haircut.
They are also why Florida is a favorite to make the Elite Eight for the third consecutive year, and why Donovan could be cutting down the nets in Atlanta on April 8.
Fundamentals don’t earn you a lot of pre-game chatter. But they do win championships. On that front, Florida definitely has the edge.