Florida Basketball: What Gators Can Learn from Each of Their Losses
Despite what recent results suggest, the outlook is still sunny for Billy Donovan's Florida Gators (22-5, 12-3) .
The veteran-laden squad still holds the top spot in Ken Pomeroy's Pythagorean winning percentage metric and is the only team to rank among the nation's 10 best in offensive and defensive efficiency.
That doesn't mean Florida fans should ignore the team's 4-3 record in the last seven games or gloss over losses in three of the team's last four conference road games. Clearly, there are still holes to patch up for this team.
In the spirit of fixin', we're flipping back through each of Florida's five losses to see what adjustments the Gators can make as they gear up for a Final Four push.
Arizona, 12/15 (Away)
Telling Stat: Florida was outscored 22-10 in the game's final 10 minutes
Lesson Learned: Improve late-game ball-handling
Florida's first loss on the year was a heart-breaker, as the Gators let a late 64-58 lead slip their hands against Arizona.
The Wildcats offense struggled through much of the evening, punctuated by a seven-and-a-half minute stretch during the first half when Arizona didn't convert a single field goal. And had Sean Miller's team needed to stage its comeback in half-court game, Florida likely would have prevailed.
But the Gators came undone in the game's final minute. Mike Rosario committed back-to-back turnovers against the Arizona press leading to three quick Wildcat points. When Arizona guard Mark Lyons gave his team the lead with seven seconds remaining, Florida responded with a frenzied possession that resulted in a loose ball and a desperate last-second heave.
It was collapse to be certain, but perhaps a defensible collapse considering it was Florida's first true road test and first experience facing a tight, late-game situation.
As forward Patric Young would tell the press afterwards, "We couldn't quite handle the pressure and I think that's what cost us the game." (h/t ESPN.com)
Kansas State, 12/22 (Semi-Away)
Telling Stat: Florida forced only 10 turnovers
Lesson Learned: Do a better job flustering veteran guards
Florida's defense has been among the country's best at forcing turnovers this year, but the Gators managed only four steals against Kansas State's experienced and talented backcourt.
The guard trio of Rodney McGruder (senior), Will Spradling (junior) and Angel Rodriguez (sophomore) committed just three turnovers between them in a combined 96 minutes. Coupled with an efficient three-point shooting performance, Kansas State managed to score 1.08 points per possession despite shooting just 41.7 percent from the floor.
Arkansas, 2/5 (Away)
Telling Stat: Florida attempted 27 three-point shots
Lesson Learned: Get off the bus
Arkansas jumped on Florida early, building a 21-point lead in the first 10 minutes of the game behind a raucous home crowd. Some credit goes to the Razorbacks (who looked energized from the tip) and some credit goes to Lady Luck (Arkansas hit five its first threes).
But I don't think it's reading too deep to say the Gators were a bit loosey-goosey in this one. Coming into the game, Florida was on a season-high 10-game winning streak. During that streak, the Gators' slimmest margin of victory was 14 points.
And Florida played like a team that hadn't been challenged. Billy Donvovan's group committed 16 turnovers and found itself drowning early.
In this game we also got a rare glimpse at Florida in panic mode, and it wasn't pretty. The Gators attempted 56 shots in the Arkansas game, 27 of which were threes. Even for a team that likes to chuck, that's an unseemly ratio.
If confronted with a similar scenario in the future, the Gators would be wise to exhibit a bit more patience.
Missouri, 2/19 (Away)
Telling Stat: Florida made only six free throws
Lesson Learned: Make a better effort to draw fouls
Florida's offense is uber-efficient, but its one glaring flaw is its low free-throw rate. Out of 347 D1 teams, the Gators rank 334th in free-throw attempts as a percentage of field-goal attempts.
Perhaps it's too late in the season to amend that tendency in any significant way, but the Missouri game is an example of how Florida's inability to draw fouls can limit its efficiency.
Of all its losses, this was probably Florida's best game. The Gators defense was solid, forcing 19 Mizzou turnovers and holding the Tigers to 5-of-22 shooting from beyond.
Even an average offensive effort by Florida would've given the Gators their most impressive road win of the season. But Billy Donovan's team was doomed by uncharacteristically poor three-point shooting (10-of-33) and the lack of any offensive contingency. The Gators managed just 12 free-throw attempts and took only 21 shots from inside the arc.
Tennessee, 2/26 (Away)
Telling Stat: Florida made four three-point shots, its lowest single-game total of the season
Lesson Learned: Learn to live without the three
Florida's dependency on the three-point shot is well documented. The Gators take a larger percentage of their total shots from beyond the arc then all but 23 Division I teams. It's a sound strategy both because the three-point shot is so valuable and because Florida makes a sterling 38.4 percent of its attempts.
But what happens when the Gators can't connect from distance?
Florida shot poorly from three in four of its five losses this season (Arizona was the exception), and the Gators have struggled to find a secondary scoring strategy.
Against Tennessee—a team that defends the three-point line well—Florida tried to find offense elsewhere. The Gators attempted a modest (by their standards) 17 three-point shots, but their efficiency suffered. Again, Florida was hurt by its allergy to the free-throw line. The Gators shot only 11 times from the charity stripe and made just six of those attempts.
The bigger question for Florida is not so much how it will handle bad shooting nights. Every team misses from time to time, and how those misses are distributed is more a function of random variation than anything.
But what will Florida do against a teams that scheme to run the Gators off the three-point line? How will they handle opponents who simply refuse to let them shoot? What if a team holds them to 15 or even 10 three-point attempts in a game?
The obvious counter play is to dive inside and either get high-percentage looks or draw fouls. Unfortunately, Florida hasn't done much of the latter so far this year.