Wednesday, March 14, 2012 Updated: March 15, 10:51 AM ET
Offense vs. defense
By Michael DiRocco GatorNation
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's second-round NCAA tournament matchup with Virginia is one of classic offense vs. defense.
The Gators (23-10) want to run, shoot a lot of 3-pointers and play the game in the 80s. The Cavaliers (22-9) want a plodding, halfcourt game that keeps the score south of 70 points. Whether UF survives for a potential third-round matchup with Missouri depends on the Gators handling the Cavaliers' pack-line defense.
"They do a terrific job defensively," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "They're well positioned. They do a great job of holding teams down. ... That's the real strength of their team -- how well they defend and the way they help each other, apply pressure on the ball and the way they try to eliminate and take things away at the basket."
Tony Bennett's Cavaliers are known for their ability to slow the pace of the game.
The pack-line defense -- created by Virginia coach Tony Bennett's father Dick -- is designed to help teams handle opponents who are more athletic or skilled. One player pressures the ball while the other four essentially play a zone within an imaginary arc 16 feet from the basket. It is designed to discourage teams from getting the ball into the post and force them to beat you with well-executed, patient offense.
The 10th-seeded Cavaliers have executed it well enough to rank second nationally in scoring defense (53.7 points per game) during the regular season. Virginia has held 11 opponents to fewer than 50 points. That's the most in ACC history in the shot-clock era. The Cavs have given up 70 or more points in regulation just twice. North Carolina, which was second nationally in scoring during the regular season (82.0 ppg), scored 70 and 54 points, respectively, in its two games against the Cavaliers. Georgia Tech scored just 38 points.
It's not going to be any more taxing on Florida point guard Erving Walker in terms of bringing the ball up the court or initiating the offense, but he is going to have to avoid the times in which he drives the ball without a plan, because the help defense will converge and make it hard for him to find open teammates.
"They do a great job of getting into gaps," Donovan said. "They do a great job of creating deflections and coming up with steals, so you have to understand how the floor is spaced, and you have to make good decisions."
Walker has done that for the most part this season. The 5-foot-8 senior is third in the SEC with 4.7 assists per game and second in assist-to-turnover ratio. Though his scoring is down in March (just 7.7 points per game), he has 13 assists and five turnovers in three games against NCAA tournament teams Alabama and Kentucky (twice).
The best way for Walker and the seventh-seeded Gators to handle the pack-line defense is to push the pace and make it an up-and-down game. The Gators are at their best when they play up-tempo and have success shooting 3-pointers in transition.
"Sometimes it can be really difficult when a team is really disciplined with the ball and doesn't turn it over," Walker said. "Hopefully we're going to try to press and just keep pushing the pace and get the game going our way."
That includes taking a lot of 3-pointers. UF averages a nation-best 9.9 per game, but Virginia is 11th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense (29.5 percent). If some of those 3-point attempts come in transition, it should allow Walker, guards Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal and forward Erik Murphy to get some good looks.
Other teams, of course, have had the same idea, and that approach hasn't exactly worked consistently.
"We've played teams that maybe don't do exactly the same thing, but there are teams that have similar philosophies and mindsets in terms of how they want to play defensively," Donovan said. "When you look at their team over the course of the year, they're really a very sound defensive team."
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNDiRocco.