Why Florida’s Transition Game Is the Key to a National Championship

As the #3 ranking next to the name suggests, there are lots of ways this Florida Gators team can win games. Close games, routs, and everything in between. Hot shooting from outside, dominant play inside, suffocating defense, and any combination of any extent of those.

But, for the most part, opponents cannot control those things. Perhaps an even more important thing to note is that unless Florida’s facing a Duke, or an Oklahoma State type team that can naturally score a lot of points, opponents can’t control how good Florida’s defense is, or do anything about it. Scottie Wilbekin’s among the best on ball defenders in the game. How can Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford do anything to change that?

What opponents can control is whether they turn the ball over or not, as can Florida. Just about all of the turnovers in college basketball are due to a mistake by the offense- either dribbling too far away from the body, or making a careless or lazy pass. The latter is more relevant to this piece, though, so that’s the one I’m going to go into. Just like in football, you as the defender- even one as fantastic as Scottie Wilbekin- cannot defend against the perfect pass. The better the defender is, the smaller the window for the point guard to deliver a pass- but it’s not humanly possible for the guy on defense to be able to stop any pass. In other words, if the nation’s best defender faces the best passer in the nation, and the defender does the best job he can and the passer makes a perfect pass, the passer is going to win- he’s going to get the ball to the teammate he wants to get the ball to.

How is any of this relevant? Aside from the fact that Florida may have the best defender in the country (Wilbekin), as you’re probably thinking (and are not wrong)?

It’s relevant because of the combination of the above facts. Think opponents can completely control whether or not they turn it over in general, and when they face a team that’s known for its excellent defense, they make a note to be extra careful with the ball. Yet despite all that, Florida forces a lot of live ball turnovers, and are rewarded with transition buckets. Basically, live ball turnovers are the one thing opponents know they can’t do against Florida, yet Florida forces enough of them to get multiple free baskets a game.

The mechanics of how Florida can score in transition are simple, yet numerous. After Wilbekin or Hill picks the guard’s pocket, the other four guys in Gator jerseys all take off on a dead sprint towards the other end. They’re each fast enough to beat their opponents down there, which pretty much guarantees that at least one of the four will on every live ball turnover the Gators force. That creates numbers for Florida (3 on 2, 2 on 1, etc.), and that’s where it can get tricky.

Wilbekin and Hill, at least in this respect, are interchangeable parts. So I’ll just say the point guard when referring to either, and know that what I say applies to both of them. Anyway, the point guard is both a great passer, and a great one-on-one scorer. More importantly, though, the point guard is very smart, and knows exactly when to pass it off to the teammate of his that smoked his defender in a footrace down the court (whichever one that may be, whether that’s the other point guard in the game, or Michael Frazier, or Casey Prather, etc.), and when to take it himself based on what the opponent does.

Once the Gators’ point guard crosses the extended foul line with numbers, the on-ball defender is essentially dead for the simple reason that the point guard knows what he’s going to do and the defender doesn’t- and he has less than a second to do something about it, i.e. cover either the point guard with the ball or his teammate. Guessing does no good, because if he guesses wrong, the guy he doesn’t cover gets the easiest two points of his life, and if he guesses right, the point guard is good enough to make an impromptu change of plans, sometimes in mid-air, and still be able to either finish himself or get the ball to his teammate, who can score just as well (Prather, Young, Chris Walker, and even Will Yeguette can finish on open/semi-open layups as easily as they can say their names. They may not be able to create their own shots on offense, but, well, that’s another story). Sitting back and waiting, and then reacting, is no better; the point guard (especially Hill, but Wilbekin too) is fast enough to simply blow past the defender, and then he’s reacting to the name on the back of the jersey.

So basically, against the Florida Gators in transition with numbers, the defender is defenseless.

Florida gets about two or three transition buckets a game, which may not seem like a lot, but look at some of their final scores. They beat FSU by 1, Kansas by 6, Memphis by 2, Alabama by 6 and then 9, Auburn by 7, Arkansas by 2 in overtime, Richmond by 9, etc. They’ve been winning some really close games, and I’d estimate that their ability to force live ball turnovers and finish in transition is worth at least four points a game, and up to maybe ten or twelve. In each of those games, Florida got several huge scores off live ball turnovers.

Now, if Florida’s going to win it all this year, it’s safe to say they’re going to have to win some tough games. If they have to scratch and claw past Auburn, Richmond and FSU, you can bet they’re not going to run roughshod over the likes of Syracuse or Arizona. They can beat those teams, but they’re going to have to fight for 40 minutes to do it. And if Florida’s able to pull out a two point win in the NCAA Tournament, I’m betting that transition buckets are going to be at least partly responsible. Even though teams know Florida is really good at that, it doesn’t mean they can avoid it, because Wilbekin is just that good of an on ball defender that he can poke it free at any given moment, and the next thing you know, Florida’s point total is two more than it just was.

Take a look at some of the best teams in the country. They all turn it over sometimes. But no team will make you pay for it time and again like the Florida Gators will, at least twice a game or so- and those four points could be the difference in Florida hoisting the crystal basketball and watching somebody else do it.

2 thoughts on “Why Florida’s Transition Game Is the Key to a National Championship

  1. Great read man.

    Before I saw this, I was actually just wondering if you would write this type of stuff for the new IAKOW. I like the way you write your game recaps, with a pleasant mix of game analysis, big picture and a shot at the opponent. I like reading Andy’s in-depth discussion, but you don’t get that overall combination at Alligator Army. A little bit of everything is what I like best 🙂

    But I do very much enjoy deep discussion pieces. That’s why I pretty much alternate between here and AA. I remember you used to pick parts of the game to harp on, and discuss in depth. That’s what made reading AA so great with you there. So I’m glad to see you post something like this. It was fun to read, and I look forward to more of it.

    1. Glad to hear! Yeah, there’ll be more of this. What I might do is give Joey or Tanner the game recaps, and I’ll do more in-depth discussion pieces like this.

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