Florida vs. Mississippi, The Differences: Four takeaways from another historic Gators win

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Florida silenced Marshall Henderson after being baited into a shootout because it's a great second half team, and the celebration afterward was a sight to see.

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

Florida 75, Mississippi 71

Game Thread | Recap

  1. One quick and dirty way to tell how a player affected a basketball game is to check the play-by-play to see when and for what he was mentioned. Here's the full list of Marshall Henderson's plays in the first half on Saturday, including time and score.

    Time Play Score
    17:33 Made three-pointer 3-3
    14:53 Turnover 7-5, Mississippi
    13:51 Substituted out 11-9, Florida
    12:30 Substituted in 16-13, Florida
    12:22 Missed three-pointer 16-13, Florida
    10:27 Made three-pointer 20-18, Florida
    9:53 Missed three-pointer 22-18, Florida
    9:18 Made three-pointer 24-21, Florida
    9:18 Made free throw 24-22, Florida
    9:06 Made dunk 24-24, Florida
    8:34 Missed three-pointer 27-24, Florida
    6:52 Missed three-pointer 34-24, Florida
    6:19 Made three-pointer 34-27, Florida
    4:45 Made three-pointer 34-33, Florida
    3:29 Missed three-pointer 35-34, Florida
    3:22 Missed jumper 35-34, Florida
    1:56 Missed three-pointer 38-36, Florida
    1:47 Made free throw 38-37, Florida
    1:47 Made free throw 38-38
    1:13 Made jumper 40-40
    0:02 Foul 42-40, Mississippi

    If you recall Saturday, it felt like Henderson was dropping in every shot despite swinging on a trapeze, but looking at the play-by-play paints a different picture. In a half that was close throughout, Henderson went 3-for-8 on shots to tie or take the lead (and 0-for-3 on shots to take the lead), and his only game-tying field goal came on a steal right under Florida's basket.

    And despite tying the game twice with two free throws and a jumper, Henderson helped cost Mississippi a halftime lead by grabbing Scottie Wilbekin as he drove on his final defensive possession; Wilbekin made both free throws, and Florida equalized at 42-42.

    Henderson's second half was a lot less active — and far less successful.

    Time Play Score
    16:58 Missed jumper 49-46, Mississippi
    16:25 Steal 51-48, Mississippi
    16:21 Turnover 51-48, Mississippi
    14:20 Missed three-pointer 51-51
    13:57 Substituted out 54-51, Florida
    12:03 Substituted in 56-53, Florida
    10:40 Steal 56-55, Florida
    10:35 Assist 57-56, Mississippi
    7:08 Missed three-pointer 59-59
    4:34 Missed three-pointer 64-59, Florida
    1:46 Defensive rebound 73-66, Florida
    1:23 Missed three-pointer 73-66, Florida
    0:10 Foul 73-68, Florida
    Marshall Henderson went 0-for-5 on potential go-ahead field goals against Florida.

    After 19 (or 18, if you count free throws together) non-substitution plays in the first half, Henderson made 11 in the second half. And "made" is generous: He went 0-for-5 from the field, missed both potential go-ahead buckets to drop him to 0-for-5 on potential go-ahead field goals for the game, negated his first steal with an immediate turnover, and basically contributed nothing but a steal and assist midway through the half — which, ironically, did get the Rebels the lead.

    Henderson's a really good player, blessed with a shooter's brio, and when he's hot, as he was in the first half, it can be fun to watch him, even if his celebrations of big shots halfway through the first half of a 40-minute game are irritating. When he's cold, though, he's way, way more fun for opponents to watch, because he jacks shots that would make J.R. Smith shake his head, and doesn't contribute meaningfully in any other way. A silent Marshall Henderson is bad, bad news for Ole Miss.

    In Saturday's second half, Henderson was silent. And we Gators loved it.

  2. The most surprising thing from Saturday's game was Florida's sudden transformation into a bunch of three-point bombers.

    Florida made eight of its 16 threes in the first half, then made six more on 17 shots in the second half. The 12 threes were a new season high — Florida had previously made 11 against Georgia — but the 33 attemps from distance were also a season high, and it wasn't close: Florida shot 28 threes against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It was also the first time this season that Florida has taken more threes than twos.

    That imbalance is strange, but it's taking more twos than threes that runs counter to one basic rule — threes are more valuable than twos, so take more of them — of efficient offensive basketball. And threes are obviously a hallmark of Billy Donovan's program: Two years ago, Florida was seventh nationally in three point attempt percentage (3PA/FGA) — the percent of shots taken that are threes — and finished third in offensive efficiency; last year's Gators were 35th in the 3PA/FGA in that stat, and ended up 12th in offensive efficiency.

    The 2013-14 Gators are 127th in that stat — and ninth in offensive efficiency.

    Florida being in triple digits in 3PA/FGA isn't totally without precedent, though; I kind have to tell this story to get back to my point. The Gators were 126th in the stat in 2005-06, 166th in 2006-07, and 138th in 2007-08 — and had good reason to be. In the championship seasons, Florida relied heavily on Al Horford and Joakim Noah to punish teams underneath, and soaked up possessions that would've otherwise gone to Lee Humphrey or Taurean Green. Without a third excellent shooter behind Hump and Green (Corey Brewer: Good, not great), Florida essentially didn't need to spend a bunch of field goal attempts on threes, and didn't need to spread them beyond Humphrey, Green, Brewer, and Walter Hodge, who was also a very good shooter. And because Horford, Noah, Brewer, and to a lesser extent Chris "Cliff" Richard were so good inside, sacrificing good threes for even better twos was the optimal strategy, and Florida finished third in offensive efficiency in 2006 and first in 2007.

    2008 was a different story: Florida's best offensive player was Marreese Speights, and he rightly took 346 twos on the season — more than Horford or Noah took in either 2006 or 2007, despite both Al and Jo playing more games — but Florida gave the bulk of its threes to Nick Calathes (36.7 percent on the year), Hodge (36.7 percent), Chandler Parsons (32.4 percent on the year) and Dan Werner (30.9 percent). And while those Calathes and Hodge threes were better shots 1 than their twos, Parsons (61.8 percent on twos) and Werner (57.7 percent on twos) were both shooting much better inside the arc, and should have been trading their threes for twos — or ceding their shots to Adam Allen (42.1 percent from deep) and Jai Lucas (43.5 percent). The biggest reason for Florida's struggles in 2008 was defense, to be fair, but Florida slipped from first to 17th in offensive efficiency, and even being slightly more efficient on offense would probably have gotten the Gators to March.

    The Gators got back into double digits at 68th in 2008-09, but weren't great (36.7 percent as a team) from deep, played more poor defense, and missed the NCAA Tournament again. Florida's 2009-10 then turned into a cautionary tale on the value of taking threes instead of two-point jumpers: Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton were decent and abysmal three-point shooters, respectively, in that season, but both took more than 40 percent of their shots from two-point range despite neither one shooting more than 50 percent from the field. That helped murder Florida's offensive efficiency, and the Gators ended up ranked 28th nationally, which doesn't sound bad until you know it was and is their worst — and only sub-20th — mark in the KenPom era.

    Since 2010, though, Florida's been much more judicious — with the exception of Boynton's 2010-11 season and Dorian Finney-Smith's last month — with who gets what shots, offensive efficiency has been on the uptick, and Florida's gone from 0-1 in the NCAA Tournament with one appearance over three years to 9-3 in the NCAA Tournament with three Elite Eight trips in three years.

    And this year, Donovan and his coaches rightly identified a lack of perimeter shooting as a weakness, then proceeded to build an offense around feeding Casey Prather as many two-pointers as he wants, feeding Patric Young reliably instead of sporadically, getting Michael Frazier II threes, letting Wilbekin fire away when he sees fit, and making things happen inside off dribble penetration. It has worked, while confounding announcers and analysts who still think Florida's "perimeter-oriented" — but opposing defenses have finally figured out that Florida prefers to let Prather work his magic, and are sagging off Florida's shooters.

    That adjustment, and Florida's tendency to respond to hot shooting from the other team by letting it fly in reply, has baited the Gators into shooting more threes lately, with mixed results, and almost got them into a shootout they couldn't win with Henderson and the Rebels on Saturday. For about 30 minutes, that game felt like two teams of shooters trying to go shot for shot; it reminded me very strongly of Florida's road games in 2012-13, which all seemed to end badly, and had me worried. If Florida gets lured into a game like that, for whatever reason — and Prather and Young both sitting for stretches of the first half with foul trouble didn't hurt — a lot of the confidence I have in this team's ability to concentrate on getting and denying good shots will be for naught.

    But, then again, the last 10 minutes of the game also happened.

  3. Florida hasn't led at halftime in any of its last six games — hasn't led at halftime in February, in fact. The Gators haven't trailed by more than the six-point deficit they faced against Auburn, so the first halves haven't been all bad, but with the exception of the Missouri game on February 4, they've all followed the "Florida's opponent is hot, and Florida is keeping pace as best it can" blueprint pretty closely.

    The second halves have been eerily similar, too: The other team hangs with Florida for as long as it can, and then the Gators just chomp their prey to death.

    Florida's outscored its last six opponents 234-172 over their last six games, and Florida's worst half in terms of scoring — its 33 points against Mississippi — is equal to the best half an opponent (Alabama had 33) has had. Despite those halftime ties or leads, only the Auburn game — perhaps not coincidentally the game in which Florida was coming back from the largest deficit — was a one-possession affair in the final minute. And Florida went on an 8-0 run while the Tigers were malfunctioning in the final 41 seconds; it was not the "Auburn handed Florida the game" finish that was easy to peg to close games by other teams.

    That excellence down the stretch has helped make Florida the nation's No. 6 team in average second half scoring margin, where it joins Wichita State, Louisville, and Arizona in the top six. They're in fantastic company historically, too: Florida was third in second half scoring margin last year, and first in the country in the stat in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

    And if you want to get even more granular, most of that edge comes from the final 10 minutes of play — like it did on Saturday, when Florida outscored Mississippi 19-14 in the final 10 minutes to pull away for its win. (Also, Mississippi made a meaningless three with four seconds left, not even bothering to foul afterward. Not all four-point wins are created equal.) Florida is outscoring its opponents 126-92 over the last 10 minutes of play in February, and no team but Alabama — red-hot in that game, and great at the line in the second half, which helped it score 22 points on Florida — has scored more than 15 points on the Gators' defense down those stretches.

  4. Florida has been earning these wins through visible strain, and now has the best record any Florida team has ever had more than 20 games into a season — 25-2 finally eclipses the 24-2 mark set by 2006-07 Florida — and the only 14-0 SEC record in school history. It earned No. 1, and deserves it — but it has also earned revenge, over the last two weeks, on the Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi teams that helped prevent last year's great Gators from rolling up similar numbers.

    And it had already gotten revenge on Arkansas and Missouri, so there's no SEC team that beat Florida in 2012-13 that the Gators haven't paid back with a loss in 2013-14.

    Florida doesn't dwell on its triumphs, so it's nice to see rare celebrations of them.
    This team doesn't really dwell on those triumphs, though; it may look forward to the next game and the next challenge pretty routinely, and certainly had its road week against Tennessee and Kentucky circled on its mental calendar, but Donovan has so ingrained a respect for process and focus on these players that they have, both publicly and privately, been relatively unimpressed by their own success in the days after these historic wins.

    I don't mind that, certainly, and it definitely makes for a cool narrative on its own — Florida's got a slew of battle-forged, hard-hearted competitors who aren't going to rest until they win a national title — but their poker faces can make it feel almost like we, as their fans, go overboard when we brag about them.

    So it's nice to see things like the Gator Chomps Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete gave the crowd at Mississippi after vanquishing Marshall Henderson and a Rebels team that left it broken-hearted in the 2013 SEC Tournament. Those are beautiful public reminders that these guys know how to enjoy success, too.

    And it only makes us want them to have more successes to revel in.

Star-divide


  1. There are subjective components to shot quality, obviously, but the objective measure I try to use is simple: A decision to take a shot should be valued based on its expected point value. A player who makes 33 percent of his threes shooting a three is essentially just as good, then, as a 50 percent shooter from inside the arc taking a two-pointer. Some things complicate this — two-point shots draw fouls far more often, shots in the paint draw fouls more often still; threes vary wildly in quality, as do shooters — but one basic rule of thumb derived from that standard is that jump shooters should never take long twos when they can get threes, because the difference in expected value is so great.

    Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, especially early on in their careers, took a lot of long twos that should have been threes.

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