SI.com spoke with scouts to get their thoughts on each of the Final Four teams: how they play offensively and defensively and the biggest X-factor for each.
You look at them and think they're not that big, but that benefits them, especially with their two small guards, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. It's hard to keep them in front of you and they get into the heart of defenses over and over. They can both make mid-range jumpers and floaters, and when they get to the line they make all of them. That's such a huge thing. Then they have other guys, like Niels Giffey, who can make shots and spread the floor.
On defense, they all move well, especially forwards Giffey, DeAndre Daniels and Phil Nolan. That allows them to do so many different things, whether it’s jump out on a ball screen or maybe even switch some stuff. If for whatever reason they end up on a smaller guy, they’re fine. All of a sudden, you’ve got all these options. And even their small guys play bigger than you think. But the 3-4-5 are all long, tall guys who despite their lack of physicality are tough.
X-factor: Supporting cast
They have some guys who can score other than Napier and Boatright. Obviously, Daniels is a potential NBA player, and they're not going to win a national championship as a seven seed if those guys don't play well. But one of those other guys jumping up really puts them over the top. Let's face it: You’re spending a vast majority of the time on those three dudes. Now all of a sudden if Lasan Kromah or Giffey has 10 points, you go into the huddle and you're like, "We've gotta do this" to stop them, and your guys forget about the main things you prepared for and Napier kills you four plays in a row. Napier and Boatright are so hard to keep out of the paint, so if they’re kicking out on drives and guys are missing shots, it’s gonna get harder and harder for them to drive. If they’re kicking out and making shots, things open up.
The Gators set more ball screens than anyone in the country. When their four man screens -- it can be Will Yeguete, Casey Prather or Dorian Finney-Smith -- he pops out and drives the heck out of it. If you switch, then you have your four man guarding the MVP of the SEC, Scottie Wilbekin. Not a good matchup.
Florida's press is designed more to slow you down than turn you over. They'll switch defenses; they went to a 1-3-1 for two possessions each against UCLA and Dayton, all of which were stops. That can be the difference in a Final Four game.
X-factor: Michael Frazier II
When Florida is making three-pointers they’re impossible to beat, which makes Frazier so important. You have to get out there at the end of the shot clock and challenge shots. When Patric Young sets a high ball screen, you have to pick your poison. They put Frazier in the corner to spread the floor. If you say, “Hey I’m going to stay with Michael Frazier,” you’ve got a guy who is 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds rolling down the lane with no help. Teams that have done that have allowed Florida to get to the rim and get dunks and dunks and dunks. If you help on Young, they’re going to skip it across to the best three-point shooter in the SEC. [Frazier led the conference in three-point percentage at 44.8.] But Frazier isn’t going to hurt you off the dribble. He’s a Division I player, but he’s not going to take a guy off the dribble. If you have a good athletic guard, he can get up into him and turn him over.
On offense, they attack the paint from every position. The five [Dakari Johnson] can post, the four [Julius Randle] can post and drive, and all the guards [Andrew and Aaron Harrison and James Young] are capable of putting it on the deck. All of them are looking for opportunities, so you can never relax. If you miss one rotation, they see it and attack. Defensively, they have size at every position, not just the bigs. Transition is one way to beat their defense. You negate some of their length when they're not back and loaded up. When they're back and set, you can't see much, so you have to attack them in space.
X-factor: The 5-man
Whoever is playing center, so either Dakari Johnson or Marcus Lee. It would be Willie Cauley-Stein off the bench, but he's injured, so now Lee comes in and basically does what Cauley-Stein used to do. They're not going to pass to them much in the post and let them make moves, but their activity is the difference. You know they're going to the glass, but stopping them is easier said than done.
You better be ready to play defense for 35 seconds. Make Frank Kaminsky fall in love with the jumper, but make him think about it -- don't give him anything in rhythm. On defense, they’re going to get extremely happy if you hit a couple jump shots early, because it means you’ll take more. It’s OK if you drive, kick and then shoot, but the key is constantly attacking the rim and putting pressure on the basket. You better be ready to finish through contact, because they play in the smashmouth league and have learned how to stay out of foul trouble.
X-factor: Ben Brust
They’ve got six guys who score at least eight points a game, but Brust makes them go. He’s the reason they’re still playing, no question. He is deadly, the best shooter left in the tournament. He moves exceptionally well without the ball. He’s also a misleadingly good offensive rebounder and he’ll sneak in to get a big board or two -- it’s easy to lose him. I know Kaminsky was a stud against Arizona, but you can pretty much count on Brust to hit three or four three-pointers. And just like everyone else, he does it without dominating the ball. They didn’t get this far by having someone take over games, but if somebody has to, Brust can be that guy.”
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