The Differences: Florida vs. Memphis, Fresno State, Savannah State, Richmond

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

We wrap up our coverage of Florida's non-conference schedule with a bunch of thoughts on the Gators' last four wins.

The Difference is borrowed from Rob Mahoney's feature of the same name at The Two-Man Game, and makes a number of points equivalent to the margin of victory about games the Gators just recently played.

Today, we're writing about four games that were won by a combined 70 points, so that's going to be fun!

Florida 77, Memphis 75

Game Thread | Recap

  1. In college basketball, there are teams you have to outplay, and teams you have to out-think, and, for a lot of the schools that make the NCAA Tournament annually, there are teams that you can just out-athlete. Florida can out-athlete a lot of schools at this point.

    It cannot out-athlete Memphis, and we saw that in Madison Square Garden. Too often, Memphis's guards, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson chief among them, made their way to the basket because they decided to do it and could. Scottie Wilbekin had a bad night on defense in that game, rare for him, and felt bad about it afterward.

    But, well, Florida still won. It dumped the ball down to Patric Young and let him score, and found Casey Prather often and let him score, and got just enough perimeter shooting (7-for-16 on threes) to stay ahead of the Tigers, who closed late.

  2. Closing late is something a lot of SEC teams are going to have to try to do against Florida this year, I think, because Florida plays enough offense and enough defense to build leads it must try to hang on to late in games, as the game morphs from basketball to Foul Line Parade. And Florida is better at basketball than Foul Line Parade, much better, so the closing late is going to be worrisome all year. I think this SEC season is likely to be much more stressful on a game-by-game basis than it was last year, when the eviscerating Gators made two-thirds of the games laughers and the other third akin to sitting on a couch of needles.

    But that may be better for Florida in the long run, especially because Florida's actually won some of those close games already this season. The idea that Florida was a paper tiger last year because it lost a bunch of coinflips was always silly, but there are probably real benefits to winning them, or at least draining the inkwells of scribes who want to make that the narrative, even if they manifest invisibly in intangibles like confidence and calm.

Florida 66, Fresno State 49

Recap

  1. It's rare that Florida comes out and dominates an Orange Bowl Classic from the get-go, with the only one I can remember coming in 2011 against Texas A&M. That did not happen in this game.

  2. When Florida looks bad on offense, I can pretty much guarantee at least one of three things is happening: Lazy ball/player movement, perimeter shots not falling, and Florida failing to put in putbacks. When all three happen, you get the first half of this game.

  3. Here's a representative stretch from the first half, via GatorZone's box score. In this span between media timeouts, Florida misses five shots and two free throws, gets 11 rebounds, and goes on one of the most painful 8-0 runs in basketball history.

    Florida_fresno_pbp_snip

  4. Do you think they can tell I held off on writing this because of how bad the ga ... oh, wait, that was out loud.

  5. The thing Florida is best at right now is offensive rebounding, and it feels to most people like that boils down to Dorian Finney-Smith. He's athletic, very long for a small or power forward, and blessed with Pogo stick hops that allow him to get up vertically without a lot of space. In nearly every respect, he's an improvement on Will Yeguete (who's still better and smarter about his positioning) as a rebounder, and Yeguete was, and maybe is, a damn good rebounder.

    Finney-Smith is 61st nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, but he's joined by Young, ranked 94th, in the top 100. And Pat is, for my money, having his best year as a Gator on the boards. His offensive rebounding percentage is up slightly, and his defensive rebounding percentage is actually down a bit, but he never needed to get more defensive rebounds, because he's often doing what he needs to do after misses by boxing out the biggest post player, or is transitioning from playing post defense; Yeguete and Erik Murphy were better defensive rebounders by percentage than Young in 2012-13, Bradley Beal was a better defensive rebounder than Young in 2011-12, and Finney-Smith (ranked 92nd) and Yeguete are both better this year. Casey Prather, an average rebounder, gets defensive boards on the same 13.3 percent of possessions Young does.

    Defensive boards are also less valuable than offensive boards, and Young can do more with an offensive board than a defensive one — he shouldn't be dribbling it up or tossing outlets, so it's theoretically a better outcome for someone else to get a defensive board; no one on Florida's roster right now can do more damage on putbacks than Young, who has finally gotten a good sense of how to use his strength on second shots.

  6. That rebounding prowess makes for some boring-ass games that double as brick-laying competitions, especially given Florida's defense and streaky shooting, but the structural integrity of a team that doesn't give up a lot of second shots and gets a bunch of its own is better than one reliant on threes falling to win games. Ideally, you want both, and last year's team better balanced those things, but if it's an either/or, threes are for show and boards are for dough.

  7. Also, Fresno State is terrible at rebounding: Currently, the Bulldogs are 340th in offensive rebounding percentage, and 273rd in defensive rebounding percentage. So take some of Florida's success in this game (20 offensive rebounds, 27 defensive rebounds) with a grain of salt.

  8. Florida's defense isn't quite as good as it was last year, when it was practically the best defense in Florida history, and removing Kenny Boynton (who I think is going to get more and more underrated with time, somehow) from Wilbekin's hip is probably part of the reason for that, but it can absolutely shut down teams that don't know what they want to do on offense. Fresno State was, for long stretches of this game, very much in that category.

  9. Ranking the defenders on this team, best to worst: Wilbekin, Young, Yeguete, DeVon Walker, Prather, Finney-Smith, Michael Frazier II, Jacob Kurtz, Kasey Hill. Hill isn't even a bad defender; he's just not better than average, and gambles a bit too much. Wilbekin and Young are the only two excellent defenders, though.

  10. Florida began the game with a KenPom win probability of 92.6 percent. It never dipped below 90 percent.

  11. The only player I think Florida would want from Fresno State's roster: Cezar Guererro, a waterbuggy guard who got his shot when he wanted to. 17 points and four assists on the day for him.

  12. It was over when Florida pulled out to a 35-23 lead in the second half.

  13. Immediately after that, Kasey Hill hit a three! I feel like we're early enough in Hill's career and development as a shooter that "Kasey Hill hit a three" deserves an exclamation point each time.

  14. For the record, Erik Murphy didn't take any threes as a freshman. Players change over time under Donovan.

  15. One of the changes I would like to see? More initiative from Frazier, who didn't take a two-pointer in this game as a driver. Currently, when his threes aren't falling, he's basically an offensive liability, because he's not big enough to rebound and doesn't get inside. (When they are falling, obviously, he's a terror.) If he can at least keep closeouts honest by throwing ball-fakes or pump-fakes, he'll be a better player for it.

  16. Boy, 17 points about a boring game sure is a lot to make. I hope no other games require me to make more tha ... dammit.

  17. I like the games Florida plays in its psuedo-tour of the Sunshine State because they do a good job of making fans who aren't local to Gainesville local to the Gators for at least one game a year, and I like the Orange Bowl Classic because fans turn out for it, but none of the four teams that played in the two games at the OBC this year could shoot, and it's played in a multipurpose facility that is used primarily as an ice rink. It would be awesome if the Orange Bowl could swing a holiday doubleheader in American Airlines Arena, and, if it can't, Florida should really investigate getting into the Amway Center more often.

Florida 76, Savannah State 34

Game Thread | Recap

  1. Florida is a lot better than Savannah State.

  2. Savannah State being as bad as it is makes it hard to evaluate a game like this for anything other than fundamentals being good. There's just not a lot to learn from a 42-point win over an awful team.

  3. That said, leading a game 14-2 is always nice.

  4. Walker's three-pointer got the score from 11-2 to 14-2, and extended Florida's bananas streak of games with a three-pointer. He and Hill (and maybe Yeguete) have been the guys to hit the first three of the night and extend that streak over the course of this, which is weird and fun, and I love that streak, which is irrational, but whatever.

  5. I would also love to eventually write out a list of every player that has hit a three to continue that streak, but I'm not made of free time. Not entirely, anyway.

  6. Savannah State was down 30-7 at one point in this game, because Florida followed its 14-2 run to open the game with a 14-0 run after the Tigers "closed" the lead to 16-7.

  7. Tigers make sense for a lot of schools because they're garden-variety fierce animals. But tigers in Savannah, Ga.?

  8. Florida's KenPom win probability for this game started at 99 percent. It threated to dip down to 98 percent a couple of times, but the Gators were in what KenPom deems "low leverage" for all 40 minutes.

  9. 33 more of these, huh?

  10. There is a compelling argument to be made that Savannah State is not the worst team that Florida played this year, because Jacksonville is that team, but I'm not gonna be able to stretch it out for 30 points, so, er, never mind.

  11. Horace Broadnax is Savannah State's head coach. Never forget

  12. No, Savannah State does not have any players Florida would want. Deven Williams would be the candidate, if there were one, but Wilbekin erased him, so.

  13. Wilbekin's greatness as a defender isn't purely in his individual skills, as I've repeatedly noted, and he's more useful to this team as a team defender than an individual, especially because he has to run the point more than he needed to when he could merely be sicced on unassuming prey last year. But it's nice to see he can still shut someone down one-on-one.

  14. This game was really about Patric Young and his quest for 1,000 points, and I'm glad, because the rest of this game was boring.

  15. Young missing a free throw that would have given him 1,000 points on the nose is perfect.

  16. Young getting a putback for that 1,000th point (and the 1,001st) is almost as perfect. I think the only things better than a putback would have been a turnaround hook over his shoulder or an alley-oop from Erving Walker. Only one of those two things was possible, obviously.

  17. The boring game coinciding with Young's milestone made it easy to frame game stories around it. And that's nice, because Pat gives good quotes.

  18. It's also neat that Billy Donovan to put Young in the game and gun for that milestone, because a) it would've been kind of embarrasing to be four points shy of 1,000 after being 12 points shy of it and b) it's a reminder that Florida's guards still don't feed Young as often as they should.

  19. Apropos of nothing: Patric Young and Trey Burton sharing the same four years at Florida is so right. Both are very good players who had no way of living up to their massive hype, frustrated fans on the court as much as they made us proud off of it, and will do good things in their lives well beyond sports.

  20. I liked that the surprisingly large crowd was very into Pat's pursuit of 1,000 points. That starts with shrimp an engaged student section that pays attention and primes the rest of the crowd.

  21. I should really make more "starts with shrimp" jokes.

  22. The student section has also been excellent at the fake shot clock all year. I hope that continues in conference play, and have no reason to believe it won't.

  23. After all, here is an example of how dedicated some of Florida's student fans are at this point: I had a friend tell me that he was planning on lining up for tonight's game with South Carolina at 9:00 a.m. this morning. I don't know if he actually did it, but given the fact that my besocked feet are cold as I write this in my apartment with the heater on, I'm going to give him credit for even cogitating "I want to line up for a basketball game on a cold, cold day."

  24. Besocked is a word. Look it up.

  25. Attendance for this game wasn't just good on TV; it was good in general. GatorZone's box score lists it at 10,508, and that doesn't actually sound all that different from butts-in-seats attendance. It's also very strong for a game against a terrible team over winter break.

  26. 17 more of these, huh?

  27. The way Florida has finally come around to supporting and respecting the student section in the last couple of years is a really good sign for the future of the program, I think. The Rowdy Reptiles are not, I'm sorry to report, the best student section in the country, but they are led by some very devoted, very knowledgeable, very good people, and they have worked well with the UAA to make the experience of being a student and a basketball fan at Florida better.

  28. One thing that Florida students should not take for granted, even though they do: Free tickets. It is an incredible luxury to be able to see a team as good as Florida's, year in and year out, as a bonus to your college education. Go to the games, pay attention, and yell, whether you're in the third level or the courtside section. There is always, always a chance that UF will decide that being kind to its students will not be cost-effective, and banish them, or screw them in the new seating configuration that will come with the Damoclean remodeling of the O'Connell Center, and the best thing you can do to prevent that is turn out and turn up.

  29. Back to Pat: He is probably the student section's most beloved player (if not, it's Yeguete), and he deserves it, because he's probably the one who interacts with them most (again, if not, it's Yeguete). More players should interact with those students; the student section, especially in the lower section, should be more into interacting with and supporting its players. Chants supporting players would be nice, and are always a highlight of going to Florida volleyball games.

  30. Pat has also been more consistent this year, his last, and the only one that really matters at this point. He can't change his past, spotty as it is with effort issues and injuries that he may or may not have moped through instead of gritting his teeth and trying to ignore them; he can only change what is to come, by being better, smarter, quicker, more resilient.

    He's been those things, especially lately, scoring eight or more points in his last six games and staying far enough away from foul trouble to play at least 27 minutes in his last seven games. The only "bad" game in that stretch was a 5-for-13, 2-for-7-from-the-foul-line night against Kansas, which has length that troubled him and the rest of Florida's front line, and he still managed to put up 12 points and six boards with two blocks and two steals in that game. If he keeps this up, or improves, he's going to be an All-SEC performer.

  31. Of course, that effort has always really been Pat's issue made me physically unable to write that last sentence without an if.

  32. One last note on Pat: I'm glad he led the team in scoring on his 1,000-point day. That didn't have to happen.

  33. Florida holding Savannah State to 11 points in the first half was great, but ultimately frustrating, because I don't want to see a team come close to being held to single digits in the first half — I wanna see the real thing.

  34. Walker had eight points and seven boards in this game, and I was really hoping it would be Chris Walker I would write that about, not DeVon.

  35. Obviously, that's not a slight to DeVon, who had his best game as a Gator; it's just that waiting for Chris Walker feels like waiting for a really tall, frighteningly athletic Godot at this point.

  36. A thing that makes no sense: Prather having his worst game of the season (tied his season low in points with 10, had five turnovers, posted his first sub-100 Offensive Rating since he was basically the whole offense at Wisconsin) against a team that he could absolutely out-athlete by himself.

  37. But, then again, Prather went 2-for-9 from the field against Southern, also a team he should be able to out-athlete.

  38. Anyway, Prather's still shooting an unfair 61.7 percent on his two-pointers, which makes his two-pointers equivalent in shot value to three-pointers launched by someone shooting 41.1 percent from three. The only Florida player shooting better than that who isn't in the Will Yeguete Small Sample Size Threes Theater is Frazier, so, basically, Prather shooting his shots is better than nearly every three Florida could take. #FeedTheMurk

  39. On the other side of the coin, Finney-Smith is, somehow, shooting 41.1 percent on his twos, which is the equivalent of shooting 27.4 percent from three. Kenny Boynton's freshman year, in which he took about a billion threes despite making fewer than 30 percent of them, was still a better offensive season from a scoring efficiency standpoint than the one Finney-Smith is having.

  40. But that is not nearly the worst year a Gator has had on twos, because Erving Walker, incredibly, shot 32.9 percent on his twos as a sophomore. I know, I know: You're shocked that a 5'6" point guard struggled to make shots. Me? I'm stunned he was allowed to take 173 of them.

  41. Florida held Savannah State to 34 points on 64 possessions. That's .527 points per 100 possessions, and by far Florida's best defensive performance this year.

  42. If Florida has to play horrible teams like Savannah State every year, and it probably does, I wish it would play in-state teams like Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman. Jacksonville qualifies as horrible, too, but that's a matchup made for proximity's sake; giving Florida natives a chance to play in the O'Dome is a cool thing, and I wish it happened more often.

Florida 67, Richmond 58

Game Thread | Recap

  1. For my money, this was the most interesting and revelatory game of the winter break quartet, with apologies to Memphis, because Florida isn't likely to see a team like Memphis until the second round or Sweet Sixteen in March, and the Gators need to prove that they can fend off the mid-majors they might see in the first round more than they need to prove that they can hang with the big boys right now.

  2. That's one blessing of Donovan's new non-conference scheduling philosophy that values rigor more than guaranteed Ws: Even if you lose in the big games, you know where you stand.

  3. That said, I would be totally fine with playing teams with a slightly bigger or slightly smaller name than Richmond in the future, especially if they don't have Chris Mooney coaching them. The more I think about that Spiders team, the more I'm sure that they will make some noise of some kind in March.

    The secret is the two good guards. Kendall Anthony and Cedrick Lindsay — first-ballot Two Last Names Hall of Famers — were both quick enough to penetrate against Florida's defense, and both had shots sweet enough to be problems on the perimeter. Together, they're a nightmare: Even the really good teams may have one Scottie Wilbekin-esque defender, but they're not likely to have two, so while one is jammed up, the other could go off. And Florida was getting victimized by those two while largely sealing off the paint, and nullifying Alonzo Nelson-Ododa and Terry Allen (who will have to wait for the second ballot to get into the Two Last Names Hall of Fame).

    They're good.

  4. Florida learned that the hard way, by shooting about the current temperature in Chicago percent from the field in the first half and letting Richmond stick around. It was a restless crowd in the O'Dome last Saturday, one that was waiting for the Gators to make a run, and they had to wait a long, long time.

  5. The primary reason for that: Scottie Wilbekin was trying to do too much. There's really very little reason for him to be the leading shooter on any given night for Florida, because his best shots are spot-up threes that just don't come in any significant quantity for a team's primary ball-handler, but he still falls into the trap of trying to match the other team shot for shot when that other team has a couple of good guards.

    That's just not Wilbekin's strength as a player, though he can get hot from time to time, and he needs to know and accept that going forward, because Donovan can't actually afford to bench him in most games, with Hill's development still lagging. (Donovan might bench him anyway, but he would be cutting off his nose to spite his face.)

  6. Yeguete had one of the worst offensive games I've ever seen him have against Richmond. He's not the player he was last year, that much is clear, with injuries sapping a lot of what made him so great as a glue guy for his first three seasons and Finney-Smith's emergence turning him into the second-best player in his own mold on the team, but Yeguete has been pressing unnecessarily and playing a little too fast for weeks now, and he needs more than anything to just slow down, get some easy putbacks, and have a 10-and-8 night that will rebuild his confidence. That alone might work wonders.

  7. In games like this, Young's newfound consistency is a godsend. He put up 15 and six, which is nice on its face, but he also really stonewalled Richmond's bigs, who got nothing in the way of second chances, snagging just three offensive rebounds on the day. That may not seem like much, but it prevented Richmond from building any sort of big lead (largest lead: four points), and kept Florida from sagging like teams tend to when the back-breaking putback and-ones or tip slams put them in holes. Think of the spring of Chandler Parsons's senior year, and all his exciting follow dunks, and realize that while a lack of those doesn't energize a team, it certainly doesn't demoralize it.

    And then thank your lucky stars that Young isn't prone to giving those up.

  8. When Florida pulled away, it did so with the kind of balanced run that the 2012-13 team pulled out when it went from leading a game to burying a team, which I'm going to take as evidence that this team can do some of the same next-level things that team did routinely. That late 12-0 run, in play-by-play form:

    Florida_richmond_run

    And in sentence form: Florida went and-one three-pointer, and-one three-pointer, three, turnover, missed one-and-one free throw, made free throws, missed dunk (by Prather, which was stunning and still is), missed free throws, 1-of-2 free throws; Richmond went missed three, turnover, turnover, turnover, missed three, missed three.

  9. Free throws will cost Florida a game in SEC play, but the ominous warnings I see everywhere I read something about Florida basketball are a little much. Yes, these Gators are bad at shooting free throws. But there isn't an SEC team in the top 100 nationally in free throw percentage, and the games in which Florida is most likely to be bit by free throws are ones in which a) the game is close and b) the refs call a lot of fouls and make the entire game Foul Line Parade.

    The most likely partner for a game like that? Kentucky. And while Florida is 280th nationally in free throw percentage, Kentucky's 265th. Let's maybe count our blessings and remember that worrying about free throws is preferable to many other worries?

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