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No. 2 Florida succeeding with unconventional formula

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Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 5:36 pm, Wed Aug 28, 2013.

Florida is the best team in college basketball, but it doesn’t fit the offensive profile of a national champion. 

The Gators’ offensive efficiency, ranked second in the nation, can’t be questioned. And there’s no reason for Billy Donovan and his staff to try to fix something that isn’t broken.

Still, UF making a run to the Final Four would be nearly unprecedented.  

In the past 10 years, only two Final Four teams have taken a higher percentage of their shots from beyond the arc than 2012-13 Florida. And only one of the past 40 Final Four participants has gotten to the free-throw line at a lower rate. 

Before I beat you over the head with numbers, here’s a little context. KenPom, a haven for hoops and stats junkies like myself, ranks every Division I team by a number of metrics. The 2013 version of Florida differs from the past 10 years of Final Four participants in two major categories. 

The first is three-point attempts over field goal attempts, or the percentage of a team’s shots that come from beyond the arc.  

Florida’s 40.9 percent ranks 26th nationally. Consistently, the national average is in the neighborhood of 33.3 percent.

But, over the past 10 years, elite teams have traditionally relied on interior scoring. Only seven Final Four participants in the past 10 years have posted a mark higher than even 35 percent. Again, Florida is currently at 40.9.

As I said, I’d never advocate the Gators change their ways. Erik Murphy is shooting an unreal 51.2 percent from outside. If anything, he should be taking more threes, and Donovan has been stressing getting Murphy the ball when he has an open look. Donovan wants all of his shooters to take threes freely and with confidence, even when they’re going through a rough patch. 

Michael Frazier II is shooting 44.3 percent, so he needs to keep shooting. Kenny Boynton (35.1), Mike Rosario (35.7) and Scottie Wilbekin (38.3) are all capable shooters, too. As it is, Boynton is shooting less than he did last year, and Rosario is taking more twos than threes after doing the opposite in 2011-12. 

By limiting their long twos, the Gators still rank near the national average in percentage of shots taken at the rim. That’s a big deal for UF, since it ranks second nationally by shooting 74 percent on shots at the rim.

So nothing about UF’s offense should change. Still, sustaining an offense rooted in outside shooting is difficult. 

The two teams that reached the Final Four shooting more threes than 2013 Florida were VCU in 2011 and Louisville in 2005. (Interestingly, former Donovan assistant Shaka Smart coached VCU, while Rick Pitino, Donovan’s mentor, coached Louisville.)

In 2011, VCU hit 46.2 percent of its threes in a Sweet 16 win against FSU and 48 percent in an Elite 8 win against Kansas. It shot a pedestrian 36.4 percent from beyond the arc in the Final Four, and thus lost to Butler. 

In 2005, Louisville hit 42.3 percent of its threes in a Sweet 16 win against Washington and 39.3 percent in an Elite 8 win against West Virginia. It shot 30 percent in a Final Four loss to Illinois.  

So UF faces an uphill battle. Of course, the Gators can rely on the NCAA’s best defense if and when things get rough from outside.

But — and this is the second point that sets Florida apart from the typical Final Four team — the Gators have not been able to get to the free-throw line for easy points in 2012-13. Another KenPom metric is free throw attempts over field goal attempts, a figure that is multiplied by 100 to produce a national average usually around 37. Basically, it shows how often teams earn trips to the free-throw line. 

Right now, Florida ranks No. 308 nationally with a 29.7. In the past 10 years, only one Final Four team has posted a worse rate. 

In 2005, Illinois made the Final Four with a 28.8. Not coincidentally, the Illini are also fourth in the past 10 years in highest percentage of three-point shots. Teams shooting the ball from outside aren’t getting fouled and aren’t going to the line for easy points. 

Continuing the trend, Illinois shot 45 percent beyond the arc in a Sweet 16 win against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 45.7 percent in an Elite Eight win against Arizona and 40 percent in a Final Four win against aforementioned Louisville. It shot 30 percent from outside in a national title game loss to UNC. 

This isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. Teams that rely on three pointers struggle when they can’t hit three pointers.  But the reason it is worth discussing is because a rough patch from outside is bound to happen eventually. Shooting from beyond the arc naturally has high variance — swings happen with regularity. 

Maybe the Gators will stay hot, drilling three after three en route to a Final Four appearance and a national title. Or maybe they won’t, and a dominant defense will pick up the slack and get Florida there anyway. 

Either way, 2012-13 Florida provides a test case, the likes of which has rarely succeeded in college basketball. 

Contact Greg Luca at [email protected].


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