We all know the story by now.
Once upon a time, there was this guy named Shabazz Napier, who may have done something four months ago that involved a basketball to drive a dagger through the hearts of Gator Nation.
Of course, much has happened since then. Florida has won 30 games in a row, UConn has fallen from being a Top 10 team to a #7 seed, each school has made their way to the Final Four, and now they meet again, on Saturday night, 6:10pm EST on TBS.
Naturally, much of the hype from the Florida media is going to be given to the last guy directly responsible for a Florida loss- Napier. And that makes sense, because Napier is among the great players of college basketball today, and is, in my view, on the same level with the last guard to lead UConn to a national title- Kemba Walker, so it’s totally OK with me to read Napier this, Shabazz that, etc. for an entire week, because the guy deserves every bit of ink he’ll get.
But what’s so often lost in a sport that focuses so heavily on the individual- where more people across the country could sooner name Andrew Wiggins than name a single starter on Florida’s roster- is that there are four guys around Napier who combine to form a solid team, just like there were four guys around Bradley Beal to form a solid Gator team two years ago. We all know what Napier can do. Scottie Wilbekin is going to have his hands full trying to guard him, because Napier is good enough to score 20+ against even the best on-ball defender in the country. But if UConn fails to get help scoring from other sources, they’re going to be in trouble
So let’s meet those other scoring sources.
-DeAndre Daniels is perhaps UConn’s biggest all around scoring threat after Napier. He’s listed as a forward, but don’t let that fool you- he can shoot from outside (43.2% from three point country). His 6’9 stature can make him a mismatch against the right (or, I guess, wrong) personnel, and don’t foul him in desperation, because he shoots 78.7% from the foul line. He also averages six rebounds per game, which is the highest on the Huskies’ roster. The Gators absolutely cannot afford to lose sight of him at all times, or he’ll get some easy looks from everywhere on the court, including dunks, put backs, and threes.
-Ryan Boatright is, if such a thing exists, Shabazz Napier’s understudy. What that means is, he’s the next best guard on the Huskies’ roster, even if he’s a different type of guard. He, like Daniels, can score from beyond the three point arc (37.7%) and from the foul line (79%). But Boatright makes his living by slashing to the hoop and scoring from inside, in a vein similar to Kasey Hill. Shabazz Napier may be the better all around player, but Boatright can take it to the hole just as well as Napier can. Florida’s going to have to have some help on him on defense.
-Niels Giffey is the man I am the most worried about. He shoots an incredible 49.1% from three point land, and at 6’7, does an adequate job of creating his own shot when he has to. Of course, he doesn’t have to much, because when you make literally every other three pointer you try, your team will find ways to put you in catch and shoot situations. He’s “only” 70.5% from the free throw line, and also has an uncanny ability of sneaking down low and grabbing a bunch of rebounds (3.8 per game, to be exact) and putting them back and scoring. He only plays 24 and a half minutes per game, which is why he averages 8.3 points per game (and also why he’s third on this list), but when he’s in the game, he needs to be watched like a hawk. I’ve previously compared him to Erik Murphy, and I’ll stick with that comparison. The only major difference: Giffey’s less streaky, which will not bode well for the Gators if they fail to account for him.
-Lasan Kromah has seen his playing time, and thus his numbers take a major downturn since he transferred from George Washington. But don’t think he’s not just as dangerous as he was with GW: on a team in which he’s overshadowed by the aforementioned players, he still pulls down 2.7 rebounds per game and is always liable to grab one and simply toss it right back up and in the hoop after a great defensive possession in which the Gators fail to box out and grab the rebound. And his decreased minutes haven’t stopped him from shooting 34.4% from three.
-I’m not too worried about the Huskies’ inside game, even if I probably have good reason to be. The Huskies employ a myriad of big men who have been playing well lately, including Amidah Brimah and Philip Nolan, who have had pretty good seasons despite playing a combined 30 minutes per game. Patric Young and Will Yeguette are going to have their hands full, even in matchups that probably actually favor them because they’re both pretty slippery. But again, this matchup is the one that worries me the least. Not saying UConn can’t hurt Florida down low from time to time, I’m just saying that Florida’s not going to lose this game down low.
We know Napier is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and I’m not sure that Scottie Wilbekin is going to be able to win that battle with him consistently. As great a defender as Wilbekin is, I have a hard time believing the Gators can keep him below 15 points, because of Napier’s ability to make ridiculous shots that just find their way through the basket, like a hoop-seeking missile, if you will.
But Napier can score his 15, or even 25 for all I care, and that’s not going to be nearly enough. He’s still going to need some help. Think about it like this. If Napier scores 30, and the other six contributing players all score five apiece, that puts UConn at 60 points. In a less extreme scenario, say Napier puts up 24, and the other six main guys score six each- also coming out to 60 points. Or maybe Napier has 20, Boatright has 14, Daniels has 10, but the other four guys each have four each, and you get 60 that way. The point is, however you divvy up the points, you have to like Florida’s chances of winning the game giving up just 60 points to Connecticut.
So let Napier go off on the Gators again. Let him make as many jaw-dropping, profanity inducing shots as he pleases. He’s highly unlikely to score more than 30, and against a Florida team that prides itself on defense, 20 points seems like a more realistic ceiling with a fully healthy Scottie Wilbekin on him this time around. That puts the ball in the court of the other guys who will wear the navy blue Huskies’ jerseys. How much help can Napier get in the scoring column? From Florida’s point of view, turn that question around, and ask it this way: to what extent do the Gators’ defenders (Wilbekin, Hill, Michael Frazier, Dorian Finney-Smith, Yeguette and Young) shut down their UConn counterparts?
The answer will decide the game, and whether the Gators get a chance to play for their third national championship in the last nine years.