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Florida basketball’s enigmatic road struggles no reason to panic

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Posted: Monday, January 9, 2012 12:55 am | Updated: 5:37 pm, Wed Aug 28, 2013.

There are numerous stats that illustrate Florida’s road woes this season, but they don’t nearly tell the whole story.

Sure, posting a combined 50 assists and 69 turnovers in road losses to Ohio State, Syracuse, Rutgers and Tennessee is a problem. Especially after UF recorded 227 assists and 119 turnovers in its 12 wins, each of which came in the state of Florida.

On the road, Florida has shot 42.9 percent and 37.1 percent from 3-point range. Otherwise, the Gators are shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc.

Even the defense’s numbers have dropped off in enemy territory. Outside the state, the Gators allow opponents to shoot 46.6 percent, despite holding teams to 40.3 percent in 12 wins.

But the difference between Gators at home and Gators on the road appears to be something much, much simpler. And it’s something that the numbers don’t necessarily say.

It’s comfort.

To some extent the cliché is true: basketball is basketball.

The Gators run the same offense on the road as at home — filled with side pick and rolls, baseline screens and high-low post action.

But when UF has to operate away from home, it’s just … different.

When Erving Walker comes off an Erik Murphy screen and Murphy pops out to the 3-point line while Patric Young posts inside and Brad Beal spots up from the wing, there’s a momentary hesitation. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence inspired by opposing defenses and their fans, or maybe it’s some kind of mental hiccup inspired by a night in a hotel room in an unfamiliar city.

And it’s not just Walker. The whole team is guilty.

“I think we play different on the road,” Kenny Boynton said. “I think our chemistry is better at home, instead of on the road.”

Saying that a team lacks chemistry is a pretty damning assessment, one this team has not necessarily earned. The Gators have shown they can play well in the O’Connell Center, where crisp passing and strong decision-making lead to open shots and easy baskets.

There’s no reason that chemistry should change on the road. Again, it’s the same players running the same plays. By that logic, there’s no reason the Gators can’t get these issues straightened out.

And, if you want to look at the issue through Orange and Blue glasses, maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem. First off, it goes without saying that every team plays better at home than it does on the road.

The first two losses came against Ohio State and Syracuse, two of the top five teams in college basketball. Tennessee and Rutgers aren’t powerhouses, but they’re better than every other team Florida has played aside from Arizona, Florida State and maybe Texas A&M.

And, in each of the four losses, Florida has been a strange kind of unlucky.

Against Syracuse and Ohio State they were legitimately outplayed, but against Rutgers and Tennessee it felt like everything went against them. Rough bounces, bad calls, players like Rutgers’ Eli Carter making inexplicable, acrobatic, off-balance prayers.

And, on the other end, it feels like there’s been a lid on Florida’s rim. Beal has exemplified these problems, shooting 32.7 percent on the road and 45.1 percent otherwise. He’s also posted 22 turnovers and just four assists in those four losses, perhaps a product of simple freshman jitters.

The sum of it all is that, with only four games to judge, it’s impossible to say whether Florida’s road struggles are an unfortunate anomaly sure to pass or a legitimate problem that needs to be fixed.

Contact Greg Luca at [email protected].

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