Posted: 12:48 p.m. Sunday, March 17, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
The narrative of Sunday's SEC Tournament final between Florida and Mississippi seems so easy: The unselfish Gators have become one of the nation's best teams because of their teamwork on defense and their distribution of the scoring load on offense, and Ole Miss has gotten back to the brink of the NCAA Tournament because of the spectacular play of Marshall Henderson, equally capable of shooting the lights out and shooting his mouth off.
Narratives are never really as easy as that.
Florida's unselfish, sure, with no player using more than Mike Rosario's 22.3 percent of possessions when on the floor, but that unselfishness has made many skeptical of the Gators. The lack of a go-to scorer is one of the Gators' few weaknesses, and dovetails with Florida's issues in late-game situations; Kenny Boynton's relatively quiet senior year, which is perhaps the best testament to his ability to sacrifice for the team, is used as evidence damning both him and Florida, even while Billy Donovan assures the world "Our team loves Kenny Boynton."
Sometimes, it seems like fans and observers think Florida could use a Marshall Henderson, in other words, despite Henderson and Boynton compiling identical 115.9 Offensive Ratings to this point in 2012-13.
That wouldn't necessarily be putting the player ahead of the team, though: Henderson has made Ole Miss much better despite his incredible usage. He takes a staggering 31.3 percent of the Rebels' shots, and has taken 359 threes, not far off the Division I record ... but that percentage of shots taken is third in the SEC (Henderson trails Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Texas A&M;'s Elston Turner), and Henderson makes just a shade under 36 percent of his threes, a fine percentage.
Henderson playing as well as he has also frees up his teammates to do better things, which explains some of why Mississippi has six major contributors with Offensive Ratings better than 103.0 one year after having none. Ole Miss has three seniors, Murphy Holloway, Reginald Buckner, and Nick Williams, who have dealt with double-digit losses and NCAA Tournament misses in their first three years; if the addition of Henderson, who has usurped all three as the face and heart of Andy Kennedy's team, helps them get to the Big Dance, why would they be mad?
Henderson rubs many the wrong way, with his Eminem-esque diction and And1-influenced showmanship on the court, but there's no indication that his mischief is something the Rebels don't love. And Florida's no stranger to players like that: Joakim Noah and Jason Williams both certainly fit the same pattern. The most important part of the team vs. him narrative on this Sunday is how well Florida's defense can play against single star players when it needs to. Caldwell-Pope shot under 50 percent from the field against the Gators in each of Georgia's two losses to the Gators this year, and Turner was an abysmal 1-for-10; Air Force's Michael Lyons, the only other opposing player who gets a greater percentage of shots than Henderson, went 3-for-11 against Florida.
And Henderson, who quipped "I think I had 25" when asked on Saturday about his play against Florida in February, needed 15 shots to get them, only got them with white-hot 7-for-11 three-point shooting that included a series of circus shots. And he scored just six of those points with Mississippi within 10 points of the Gators, as Florida stormed to a big lead in the first half and cruised from that point on.
Florida will put Scottie Wilbekin on Henderson for much of the day, and will rely on its defensive stopper to neutralize him while the other four players play their roles. Wilbekin will do this, playing his role on defense to the hilt and likely sloughing off his offensive load, because it is what he does for this team; Henderson will take fadeaway threes off screens despite Wilbekin contests, because it is what he does for his team.
Boynton will probably slash and score and take threes with his unorthodox release; some will go down, surely. Erik Murphy will likely be ready to spot up at a second's notice. Patric Young will definitely back down the undersized Holloway and Buckner. Mike Rosario will almost assuredly shift from smooth ball-handling on the perimeter to smart, tough drives to the hoop.
Florida will do what it does, and the Gators will have a great chance to win their fourth SEC Tournament title under Donovan as a result, and a shot to move up to the No. 2 line in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Henderson will do what he does, and will have a chance to shock the world.
There's not much better than watching basketball played by two teams that know themselves. That's what we're getting today.