Don’t the Gators wish they could blame it on Christian Drejer. They got to the NCAA tournament with a solid late run, especially in the SEC tournament, and fell flat on their face, again, in the first round. This time the opponent was Manhattan, a popular upset pick, but it didn’t look like Florida out there on the floor no matter who was sitting on the other bench.
“They just competed harder than we did,” Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan said in his post-game press conference. “I thought we were getting on a roll,” David Lee echoed, “but obviously I was wrong about that.” And Matt Walsh added, “I don’t see how guys can get to this level, to this tournament and not play all out.”
So who are they talking about? Obviously there was something missing in Florida’s effort, and both Lee and Walsh, along with Donovan were able to identify it. Who knows? Maybe you could say it was Anthony Roberson, or Bonnell Colas or Adrian Moss. But watching the game, none of those players looked like they were dogging it. But they also didn’t seem to grasp how you have to elevate your game in order to play in the tournament. Getting there is one thing, but making an impact is something else. The Gators haven’t made an impact in four years, losing in the first or the second round each time. Don’t underestimate the getting to the tournament part. It’s a big accomplishment to go back year after year. But twice, against Creighton and this year against Manhattan, they’ve been the fifth seed and have been upset by a number 12.
Getting beat by somebody who’s hot, who has a hot shooter, or hit a lucky runner at the buzzer is one thing. But getting beat to lose balls, having a short front line outrebound your frontcourt by nearly 3-1, is unacceptable. The phrase about competiting is just a euphemisim for chemistry and heart. And you can’t teach or recruit that. That has to come from within. The Gators tend to look around for somebody else to get the rebound or take the big shot when they’re faced with a challenge. That’s supposed to happen to the 12th seeded team, not the one who got to the title game of the SEC Tournament. But that’s been Florida’s M-O and unless things change drastictly in the off-season, they’ll be labeled as “soft” until they go out and change it. And as an athlete, or a coach, perhaps no label is more damming than that. “You’re soft,” is like saying, “you’re gutless.”
One thing Florida does have going for them is Billy Donovan himself. He won’t stand for it, and will find out who wants to play and who doesn’t. Maybe he’ll change his recruiting focus, looking for a couple more big bodies, but either way, you can expect Donovan to challenge himself and his players to make sure what happened in Raleigh doesn’t stick to them for long.