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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Florida basketball is the darling of advanced metrics

Florida might appear on the AP Poll for the first time since November 2019

<p>Forward Anthony Duruji led the Gators with 22 points Wednesday against Mississippi State. Photo courtesy of the SEC Media Portal.</p>

Forward Anthony Duruji led the Gators with 22 points Wednesday against Mississippi State. Photo courtesy of the SEC Media Portal.

Following victories over Vanderbilt and No. 11 West Virginia, many might scour Monday’s AP Poll to see if Florida appears for the first time since November 2019.

The numbers have long borne out what Jeff Borzello and other basketball pundits are beginning to confirm: Florida is a top-25 basketball team. The Gators were the biggest winners of this weekend's SEC/Big 12 Challenge, moving up into 18th in the NET rankings, 19th in the BPI and 23rd in KenPom after hovering in the mid-20s over the last two weeks.  

The NET (NCAA evaluation tool) rankings are the NCAA’s new ranking metric implemented last season, replacing the maligned BPI system. NET simplifies the previously complicated equation down to just two components: efficiency and strength of schedule. 

Advanced metrics have become increasingly important in evaluating teams and selecting March Madness participants, so it’s worth understanding what these metrics mean and why Florida is highly regarded. 

What is efficiency?

KenPom’s prevalence has introduced efficiency to the parlance of college basketball fans. The concept is fairly easy to understand. Efficiency is the number of points that Florida would score against an average Division 1 ballclub. 

Florida currently posts a raw offensive efficiency of 109.4 and 99.1 on the defensive end. These figures rank 36th and 134th, respectively — mediocre figures that wouldn’t place UF anywhere near the NCAA Tournament conversation. However, NET rankings adjust for the opponent’s quality and location, and UF has played the 26th most difficult schedule in the nation so far.

The adjusted metrics are kinder to the Gators, ranking them 16th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 50th in defense. For the first time in his tenure, coach Mike White boasts an elite offense, a factor behind Florida’s push toward the AP Poll. 

What happened to the “Mike White” brand?

The 2015-16 Gators provided some of the most enjoyable UF basketball in recent history, riding a stout defense and a Chris Ciozzia buzzer-beater to the Elite Eight. 

White has been criticized for regressing after that second season spurt, but the former Louisiana Tech boss has reached a similar plateau behind a completely different formula. 

The regional finalists ranked fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency, suffocating teams with great half court marking and bolstering White’s reputation as a defense-first coach.

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Five years later, Florida’s four-game winning streak has been bolstered by shootout wins against Georgia (92-84), Vanderbilt (78-71) and West Virginia (85-80). 

The biggest difference on the offensive end has been the Gators’ strong three-point shooting. Florida’s perimeter arsenal has shot better than 38% this season and opened the floor for strong interior scoring options. A 75% mark at the foul line has made UF an efficient offensive team at every level. 

Defensively, the Gators have been solid in the half court, allowing a 46% field-goal percentage from inside the arc and posting the nation’s sixth-highest block percentage. 

The glaring red flags for Florida on defense are fouling and rebounding. Opponents take more than 39 free throws per 100 field goal attempts, ranking 300th in FTA/FGA. 

UF also struggles to secure the defensive glass, allowing an offensive rebounding percentage of 32%, which is 297th in the country. 

The best time to take a three pointer is off an offensive rebound, explaining why opponents shoot 34% from beyond the arc. 

If White can tighten up his defense’s discipline and improve its rebounding, he now has the offense to create one of the country’s most dangerous teams.  

Contact Declan Walsh at dwalsh@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @declanaw

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