In close games, Billy D doesn’t measure up to contemporaries


Let’s begin by saying that Billy Donovan is undoubtedly the best coach in Florida basketball history and a future Hall of Famer

He’s made Florida basketball relevant by winning two national titles, taking the Gators to three Final Fours and sending countless players to the NBA. Trips to the NCAA Tournament have become a near annual event. Before Donovan, the Gators had only made five NCAA Tournament appearances in school history. Under Donovan, the Gators have reached the NCAA Tournament 12 times in his previous 16 seasons. And trip number 13 will undoubtedly come this March, with UF in the running for its second No. 1 seed in school history.

But the Achilles heel of Donovan’s coaching tenure in 17 seasons showed up again in UF’s 63-60 loss at Missouri — his ability to get the Gators to close out tight basketball games. The loss dropped Donovan to 67-76 overall in gamed decided by five points or less, and 58-75 in gamed decided by five points or less at UF.

Florida has won eight games by 30 points this season, but is 0-2 in games decided by 5 or less. And UF’s last two Elite Eight losses have come in games decided by five points or less due to questionable shot selection by Kenny Boynton and the now departed Erving Walker. There are many theories why Florida struggles to score in clutch situations and most center around UF’s reliance on the 3-point shot. Donovan also appears to give his guards too much freedom late in games without consequences for their actions.

For context, here’s a look at how Donovan’s record in games decided by 5 points or less measures up to contemporary active coaches who have won national titles. Interestingly enough, Donovan is closest in record to his mentor, Louisville coach Rick Pitino:

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse — 190-112  .628

Bill Self, Kansas — 80-60 .571

John Calipari, Kentucky — 81-61 .570

Roy Williams, North Carolina — 91-73 .555

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke — 139-112 .554

Tom Izzo, Michigan State — 76-63 .547

Rick Pitino, Louisville — 94-93 .503

Billy Donovan, Florida — 67-76 .469



  1. The author is right on target. I thought I was watching Ervibg Walker hoisting up ill-timed, contested 3’s in crunch time again. But no, it was Kenny Boynton. Does Billy encourage this?
    Erving did time after time, and after a season where people marveled at how unselfish Boynton has become; Kenny struck twice in the last minute.
    If this continues, Kenny will maybe win one game with the heroic heave but he will also lose the NCAA tourney game that ends the season and his career at UF on a very sour note.
    Has Billy got it in him to solve this???

  2. UF has seldom been able to recruit the elite big men. Billy gets good guys that develop, but until we completely close the gap with Heels, Duke et al for those highest rated post players we’re gonna live and die with threes. At age 47, Billy has time to overcome this hurdle.

  3. You’re argument about coach Donovan’s record really holds no water when you consider that all of the coaches that you mention have coached in more games than Donovan has. Some, Boheim and Krzyzewski, have coached in more than twice as many games. Plus the fact that Donovan has had to do this at a “football oriented” school. Also the other coaches mentioned have taken over essentially already established basketball programs, whereas Donovan has basically built the program at Florida from the ground up.
    Instead of criticizing coach Donovan, you need to examine what he has done at Florida and give him credit. But then again like most reporters, if you can’t find fault with someone, then why even write about it.

  4. The Gators best road win this year is at FSU, which says a lot about this team, sure they can beat up on Miss St and SC at home, but put them on the road and they show their true colors. Indiana, Michigan St., Duke, Michigan, Kansas, Louisville and others have too many big, athletic players that will give the Gators big problems. Florida has no inside play and it will show again in March. Look for losses in Knoxville and Lexington in the coming weeks.

  5. I guess seldom (Gatormac) means that COREY BREWER, NOAH, RICHARDOSN, HORFORD, MILLER, MURPH, PATRIC, is seldom? The point about guards getting too much ‘freedom’ at the last second is an argument, but I still think that Florida needs to run SET PLAYS at the end of CLOSE GAMES much better!

  6. The loss at Mizzou falls on free throw shooting. The Gators were 1 of 5 from the line down the stretch. Considering that 3 of those misses were the front end of 1&1’s, they were really 1 of 8 from the free throw line down the stretch.

    That is correctable with practice. If not corrected this team will not reach its potential.

  7. Trey is correct regarding the free throw issue. It is correctable. But considering that we have 3 seniors and 3 juniors that are heavily involved in the playing rotation, do you not suspect that they have already spent countless hours practicing free throws? If coaching and practicing were going to produce a different result, I believe we would have seen it by now. It would seem that when it comes to pressure games away from the friendly confines of the O dome that this coaching staff had better come up with a different game plan if they hope to gain a different result. Whats the old saying about the modern definition of insanity? Continuing to employee the same methods or philosophies yet expecting to get a different result.

  8. Trey,
    You nailed it, free throw misses killed us, and that in conjunction with an inability to get the ball inside down the stretch. When you have a lead late is when you have to be able to depend on your post game, and free throws… I have to believe Coach D knows this, as that was the halftime speech, too much reliance on 3’a, and failure to play inside out. It would then seem to be an execution issue, which can happen with seniors who think they can make that last great shot…still time to improve it, but a glaring deficiency teams will now key on for sure, especially come tourney time…

  9. I believe that Bill D is a GREAT COACH and all that, but that record stated 67-76 is what I have felt all along. These 5 and under point losses really hurt, when you have a good lead then CHOKE down the stretch. It seems like a big out of town game, if the gators get out in front they lack the killer instinct to put them away at the end. They choke, miss late shots, the other team rises up, then a loss. I dread going into Kentucky, later this year.

  10. I hope to God Florida does not play Louisville at all in the NCAA tournament. The way that game played out at the end, was predictable to me. All of the pregame hype about all the history between Bill D and Pitino and all the love for each other portrayed by the media, in my opinion took Florida out of the game. I think maybe Donovan lacks a killer instinct, I’ll explain more.

  11. To me, I know it’s not literal, per se, to me it’s almost Donovan lays down in front of Pitino in all that praise and love last year for Pitino before and after the game. With all that praise and love before and after the game for Pitino, seemed like to me Donovan hated to beat him, like he didn’t deserve to beat his mentor. Too much love and respect for me, I hope Donovan can get more hungry and determined to beat his mentor, than what I’ve seen.

  12. During the Donovan era, I am curious what is Fla’s record against Pitino, Kentucky, and Tennessee. To me , I hope I am wrong , but I think Kentucky and Tennessee has had Fla’s number every year. I am also clueless about how many times Fla has played Pitino. I think Fla should use the bench more during the 1st half and into the 2nd half so the starters can be fresh, late into the fourth quarter. To develop depth, you gotta give the young guys minutes, to get experience and confidence, to be able to contribute, when there are injuries.

  13. wow you’re comparing Billy D to these other schools that are getting the cream of the crop talent?…but it’s funny how Izzo, R.P. and billy D is the bottom 3 because these schools aren’t your traditional basketball school rich programs like the schools above…get off the man…talent has a lot to do with it too if you don’t have a go to star player who make plays for you…we might of had that one guy in Beal but he’s gone after one year.

  14. The Gators aren’t just missing Beal, they are missing Kenny Kadji too. Kadji is a big man that can hit the three and he’s been playing well for Miami this year.

    I don’t think @UK is going to be as difficult as @UT.

  15. Kevin,
    In SEC games, whether it’s basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, etc. Florida inevitably either wins comfortably or loses a close game. The games that can be decided by an official’s call inevitably are, and never in Florida’s favor.
    Particular to basketball, go back a decade or two and see how many SEC”bubble” teams managed to pull out a win over UF to give them the marquee win they needed to sneak into the tourney. The unwritten rule is, if you aren’t Kentucky, you aren’t going undefeated and you aren’t getting a #1 seed.

  16. I think Billy Donovan is best ever Gator coach. Amazing success in building elite program. However, most of our best post players flew just beneath the level of the highest regarded recruits. BD is still building program. We rely on outside shooting because we are great there, but aside from Patric right now we don’t have a big power guy to help inside. Once we do, next year, we’ll do better in closing out close games on road.

  17. We continue to lose close games because of foul shooting. Young is just not reliable at the stripe and other teams know it. We stop even looking inside because of this and stand back and just jack up 3’s. Missing as many free throws as we do is not excusable at this level.

  18. I think free throws would obviously help any team. However we don’t have that 1 player who can really take someone 1 on 1. When we had Brewer drive and either score or find Horford or Noah it made it easier, because late in games teams can get away with fouls. You need a guy like Oladipo, or Watford from Indiana. We are a great team, but unless we don’t have a bad night from 3 in the tournament were not going to close out a close game against a team with a better all around player than we have. Like Phil Pressey or Mark Lyons against us.

  19. folks we have had 17 McDonald’s All-Americans since Billy has been here, and a lot of those big men…we have the talent, it is more about a philosophy of what it takes to close out games, using your inside game late, and free throws…most times your big men will not even need to make shots, just free throws. It cannot always be about 3’s, especially late in games when fatigue starts to set in, it has to be a healthy combination, and more inside and short game late in games… Otherwise, teams will just start defending the 3 point line, just like Missou did last night… It is not talent, we have that, it is a commitment to closing games out inside, and on the free throw line…hope we get that soon…

  20. Without doing any statistics, I would say that the poor free throw
    showing of Gator teams and college basketball teams in general
    is more of the problem than scoring in the last few minutes. I
    remember watching Billy Hurley and Christian Leintner knock down
    free throws when it counted and winning games from teams that
    were equal or better when the clock was running. Is it the coaches
    fault that players do not practice free throws or is it the players?
    Let the players decide what shots to make in the last minute or
    seconds of a game is what college basketball is all about. It is
    the players game to win or lose and should not be the coaches
    choice–that is what pro basketball is about not college, which is
    why college b-ball is more exciting and also more disappointing.

  21. Do not forget Yegette was missed this game! We go only 8 deep when all our healthy plus lack depth inside. Add a bad night shooting inside and out you have a recipe for a loss on the road! FT, FT, FT equals practice, practice, practice plus some coaching. The Gators stilled played better than they did at Arkansas. February has rarely been the Gators best month but they seem to overcome this downer by tourney time!

    At least next year we will have the needed depth inside!

  22. This Gator team works together incredibly well but has limited depth and no “Kobe” type who can be depended upon to make the big shots at the end of the game. I thought that they ran out of gas against Mizzou and no one could step up and pull our butt out of the fire. A shot in the snout will make this team tougher come play off time. Wilbekin, as PG, needs to improve his FT shooting. Sadly, Young is probably hopeless at the line. Dwight Howard disease.

  23. This is the most important issue facing Florida basketball, and one that Coach Donovan himself must address. Obviously based on the statistics this is not just a problem with this group. Perhaps he needs to ask Jim Boeheim, or Bill Self for some pointers. As for Mizzou, how many times did we get the ball into Patric Young on offense, if only to keep the defense honest? And where was Frazier in the second half? The issue isn’t so much the last shot selection as the inability to keep the foot on the gas when we have a lead. Last night it was largely carelessness with the ball by the guards, but it shouldn’t have come down to a last shot when we had a 12 point lead and momentum. Makes it challenging for Gator fans to have high hopes going into the tournament. I like this team, but Coach D has to exert more authority in closing out games, IMHO.

  24. This Gator team is an Anthony Bennett short of being a contender, with no real inside play (let’s face it, Patric Young is no threat on the offensive end) tourney teams will defend the three and force Gator guards to score off the dribble. It ain’t over yet, depends on the seedings and matchups. Florida should get an easy opening game as a 2 or 3 seed, but game two will be a different story. Looking forward to next season when we’ll have big men who score inside and great guard play.

  25. (I was on the staff of the University of Florida in the 60’s, and loved it!)
    I noticed that the U of Missouri students behind each basket were particularly loud and aggressive. It may have (but shouldn’t!) rattled the Gator foul shooting. Is there any way that Billy could have the team practice FT’s against a “faux” backdrop behind the basket, with similar loudness and distracting motions? (Loudspeakers–students and/or staff yelling, waving , bobbing, audiovisual distractions, etc., etc.?) Just asking.
    And things will improve when Will Yeguete returns.

  26. I have been thinking of this is as well.

    I like the coach’s defensive philosophy, play hard and show up on each possession. But I think this mindset doesn’t have the same results on offense, in that if something isn’t working, playing harder won’t work.

    I think the offense is predictable. Would like to see more set plays for the low post. Screens away from the ball.

  27. Who are you going to set low post screens for, Patric Young??? He has no low post offensive skills, he’s in there to set screens, rebound and play defense, much like Dennis Rodman. Zeller for Indiana is a low post player, as is Plumlee of Duke, the kid from Gonzaga, and the big from Kansas. Louisville, Michigan and a few other teams also have low post players; the Gators rely on using screens to bury 3 pointers, score in transition and offensive rebound put-backs; teams no longer worry about double teaming Young, he is no threat to score inside, unless guarded by a small forward.

  28. Good job. You named seven hall of fame coaches. Why don’t you compare their success in those situations in their first seventeen years to Donovan’s? Probably because you stole the statistics from a source and didn’t give them credit.

  29. 67-77 after UK on Saturday, and I find it painful that at Marshall Billy apparently went 9-1 because his record at UF is now 58-76. Maybe Billy’s gotta have JWill to win close games? The only Gator team I can remember winning close games was 2011, and they collapsed in a close game in the tourney.

    And please quit with the Billy is the greatest Gator coach nonsense. We went to more NCAA tourneys and won more SEC titles before Billy than we won SEC titles or went to BCS games before Spurrier. And Spurrier did it while carrying the entire athletic department budget on the team’s back. And for about 1/5 of what we currently pay Billy.