There is breaking news out of Gainesville:
the Florida Gators men’s basketball team is good.
Really, really good.
How about 2nd in the nation in scoring margin at plus 21.5 ppg? That’s pretty good. Considering that these Gators have played arguably their toughest pre-conference schedule in their history, that is a highly significant statistic. It’s not just in out of conference play either. They’ve actually been even better to start the conference schedule.
In four conference games they have won by 33, 22, 21, and 31 and average scoring margin of plus 26.7. They beat Texas A&M, who beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena in their previous game, by 21 points on the road. They beat #17 Missouri. a team expected to challenge for the SEC title , by 31 on Saturday. The Gator defense has a lot to do with that large scoring margin but we’ll look at that tomorrow. Today we look at the offensive balance that makes this team dangerous.
With four guys averaging in double figures, they certainly are difficult to defend. Defenses can’t simply focus on one guy. They use a lot screening action to free up shooters and it’s important for all involved to be able to knock down shots if they’re the open man. Anybody can score at any time from anywhere on the court. They also use a lot of high/low pick and roll with Murphy and Young and some inside/outside action where they force the ball into the post for a one on one shot or a kick out to the perimeter if he gets doubled.
Individually, they lost almost half their scoring from last season with the graduation of Erving Walker and the early departure of Brad Beal to the NBA. There were bits and pieces of scoring returning led by Kenny Boynton’s 14 points per game but there were a lot of questions coming into this season about the Gators ability to score consistently. Would Patric Young be able to develop his post game to be a consistent threat down low? Would Mike Rosario be able to become a consistent practice performer to get Donovan to even trust him in the lineup? Would Erik Murphy be able to create a post presence that his 6-10 size dictates or would he remain a corner three point shooter? Would Scottie Wilbekin be more consistent as a shooter and would he be able to create offense manning the point guard position full time?
All these questions and more have been answered in the early going. Patric Young has been playing great for the Gators and it’s very obvious his work on his post moves have paid off. He has a little hook shot that he has developed that is pretty high percentage for him. He’s also been much better on the boards this season being more physical and creating more put back opportunities for himself. The Gators need him to be a consistent threat in the post as that forces teams to double him which creates open looks for the Gators’ perimeter shooters.
Kenny Boynton, of course, has been the steady scoring machine for the Gators for three years and has continued that this season as well. Despite suffering through a three point shooting slump for a large part of the non-conference schedule, Boynton once again leads the Gators in shooting averaging 13.3 points per game (ppg) and is still shooting 41% from the field overall.
Mike Rosario has been the biggest and most pleasant surprise this season for the Gators. While his talent has never been in doubt, he was a McDonald’s All American in high school at famed St. Anthony’s prep in New Jersey, the question has always been if he could show enough consistency to convince Donovan to play him. He’s pretty much been in Donovan’s doghouse since transferring in from Rutgers and right up to the start of the season there were questions of whether he would get enough playing time to be effective at all for the Gators.
Despite a somewhat jagged and rough start to the season, he was benched in the second half of the UCF game for carelessness with the ball, he has really come on of late to be one of the more consistent scorers for the Gators. He’s the second leading scorer on the team at 12.5 ppg and his 46% field goal percentage leads the backcourt. He’s also cut down on his tendency toward turnovers which kept him in the doghouse and that’s led to more and better possessions for the Gators.
Erik Murphy is another player that worked hard in the offseason on his post play and it has paid off. He’s no longer simply a catch and shoot three point shooter, although that remains a huge part of his arsenal, he’s also banging with the big guys down low, scoring inside and rebounding creating easy second chance opportunities. Murphy is tied for second on the team with Rosario at 12.5 ppg and he’s shooting 54.5 % from the field and a lights out 46% from three point range. His presence in the post helps to take some pressure off of Young and the two combine well alternating the pick and roll action making the Gators extremely difficult to defend for the entire shot clock.
Scottie Wilbekin, after returning from an early season suspension, has really come on of late for the Gators with consistent shooting (scoring increased from 2.6 to 8.3 ppg), but even more importantly, with his tenacious defense creating turnovers which lead to fast break points. His quick feet also allow him to beat defenders off the ball and drive into the lane creating easy scoring opportunities for himself or create easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. This is huge considering the last few seasons the Gators could count on Erving Walker putting points up from his point guard position but his lack of size made driving the lane difficult for him which often led to blocks or turnovers rather than layups and assists as is happening this season with Wilbekin.
Finally, the Gators have gotten scoring from three places they didn’t count on getting much from before the season started. Small forward Will Yeguete, a very active and athletic defender lacks a great shooting touch and wasn’t counted on to provide a lot of scoring. His activity on defense and on the boards, however, have allowed him to be a productive scorer for the Gators. He’s increased his scoring average this season from 4.4 to 6.6 ppg this season. Most of that has been on easy layups as guards drive the lane and dish off to him or from second chance put-backs on the boards. Another one who has stepped up on offense has been reserve forward Casey Prather, another highly active player who has very athletic offensive skills particularly underneath the basket. He’s averaging 6.8 ppg this season. Finally, freshman Michael Frazier has stepped into the rotation and produced right off the bat as well. He’s been good from the perimeter, particularly in that corner spot that Murphy has manned over the years. He’s averaging 5.4 ppg this season.
So it’s obvious that these Gators have learned the time honored mathematics of addition by subtraction. They lost two prolific scorers but they added an arsenal of guys that can not only score from all over the floor but play hard together and execute Billy Donovan’s offense as well as we’ve seen since Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer roamed these courts. Perhaps that’s the best aspect of this offense. They play well together and create quick scoring opportunities, easy scoring opportunities, and good shot selections. And they all are good passers, particularly in the lane.
What all this has created is an offense clicking on all cylinders which is extremely hard to defend. They may not be an up and down team like some but they can score quick out on the break off turnovers and they can also work the shot clock and run the offense forcing defenses to defend them for the whole possession. That helps to tire teams out and slows the opponents offensive progression particularly in the second half of games.
They certainly have areas to improve, they still play sloppy at times turning the ball over and have trouble at times inbounding balls and beating the press. Offensively, though, they have played much better than expected coming into the season. This team is a legitimate Final Four threat after making the Elite Eight the last two seasons particularly if they can get healthy and stay healthy and become more consistent handling the ball.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the Gator defense and how significant the defensive intensity has been to their quick start and fantastic scoring margin.