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The Differences: Reviewing Florida's first four SEC games

Florida's done a lot of good work early against the SEC.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

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 47 points, which is way better than last time!

Florida 74, South Carolina 58

Game Thread | Recap

  1. Florida bolted out to a 14-1 lead in this game, then outscored South Carolina by just five points from then until the game's end. Sometimes, all a win really takes is a good start.

  2. Will Yeguete had four of the game's first six points, and went on to have a good night on offense, scoring eight points, despite never taking another shot that counted, and missing three of his seven free throws. I don't think Florida really expects more than eight points at most from Yeguete, but it's good for him to get them, and it might make sense to get him those points early. He's the guy whose offense is most dependent on either being set up well or putbacks (Patric Young can do a little more to create for himself on the block) and he's the one who has been prone to punt possessions with truly bizarre decisions if he's given the ball for the first time midway through a half.

  3. Florida eventually extended its lead to 18 points at 32-14, but South Carolina would rally for a 7-2 run to end the half that added a bit more rigor to a game that looked to be a runaway early. But though Florida scuffled to begin the second half as well, the Gamecocks never got closer than an eight-point deficit.

  4. Florida's success in the first half was based on interior play and turnovers. Florida got 15 points off turnovers in the first 20 minutes, and scored 22 of its 34 points in the paint.

  5. Those turnovers (South Carolina would commit 21 on the night) made up for Florida getting beaten on the glass for one of the few times this year. (Florida's only allowed its opponent a better offensive rebounding percentage in six games this season.) South Carolina, which appeared to go after rebounds as if not doing so would make Frank Martin's face turn Violet Beauregarde-after-eating-the-Everlasting Gobstopper blue, got nine offensive rebounds on 23 misses, and allowed just five offensive rebounds on Florida's 19 misses.

  6. Some of that difficulty had to do with Yeguete and Dorian Finney-Smith, two excellent rebounders, combining for just four boards. At least Young had seven?

  7. Florida's excellence this year is based on its core competency of denying easy shots on defense and getting plenty of them on offense. Florida shot a staggering 21-for-26 on its two-pointers (80.8 percent) against the Gamecocks, and every Florida player except Scottie Wilbekin, who went 2-for-5 on his twos, shot better than 50 percent from inside the arc.

    And though Florida's got good players who know how to make shots, shot selection is the best reason why Florida succeeds on offense. Florida had just two of its misses against South Carolina come on jumpers (one by Finney-Smith, one by Wilbekin), but, more importantly, took just five shots categorized by the play-by-play as jumpers all night. And two of those "jumpers" were shots by Young from inside the paint, so they were really more hooks than jumpers.

    If a team can reduce its two-point jumpers and get the majority of its shots near the rim or from beyond the arc, that team will almost certainly score more efficiently; the expected value of a layup or a three is, almost as a rule, higher than the expected value of a jumper. Florida understands this very, very well, and even if Billy Donovan doesn't talk very much about how analytics have affected his coaching, that's proof that he has taken them to heart and applied them to this team.

  8. Florida tries to deny the shots it likes getting at the other end, too. To that point: South Carolina took 16 two-pointers categorized by PBP jumpers, though I don't know how many were hooks without looking at the game tape. The Gamecocks made six of them, and two of those makes came in the game's final 2:05, with Florida up by about 20 points.

  9. Wilbekin led Florida with 17 points scored, but needed 34 minutes and 11 shots to get them. Casey Prather, despite suffering the knee injury that would keep him out of Florida's next two games and playing just 18 minutes, had 13 points on five shots. Florida has one truly killer scorer, and it's Prather.

  10. That 7-2 run to close the first half happened entirely within the last four-minute stretch of play, and it shows how things can snowball on even these good Gators. With Prather on the bench, the offense stagnated: Kasey Hill missed a three, then Jacob Kurtz turned the ball over, then Wilbekin missed a jumper and Finney-Smith missed a three on the same possession, then Hill made two free throws, then Florida had the ball for the final 59 seconds of the half, but miss three shots. Three of the Gators' five misses on two-pointers came in that stretch, as well as one of the missed two-point jumpers.

    And the Gators weren't good on defense, either. South Carolina got its points on a three, a layup, and two free throws, and took just one jumper during that stretch.

    You can blame having Hill, Kurtz, and DeVon Walker on the floor (instead of Michael Frazier, Prather, and Yeguete, basically) if you want, as those subs do hamstring Florida significantly on offense. But Wilbekin and Young have played together for four years, and should know how to get Young a post-up with a prospect of a routine hook when a drought happens, and that didn't happen.

  11. I'm not convinced that Frank Martin will ever have a really good team at South Carolina, mostly because really good teams are few and far between at South Carolina, but the difference in talent between the two teams was stark on that night. Florida might take Sindarius Thornwell or Demetrius Henry off Carolina's roster, and could probably put Michael Carrera's reckless abandon to good use, but I think that's really about it, and I think Carolina would take a lot of Florida's players in a heartbeat.

  12. One Carolina player Florida would take for a very specific purpose? Brenton Williams, who is now 48-for-49 from the free throw line this year.

  13. A 16-point win over South Carolina at home is a very good result, even if South Carolina's just average, but it feels, even to me, like a step back from last year's team. I think we need to recalibrate our expectations, if only a bit: That was a near-perfect Billy Donovan team on offense, with able and eager shooters at three positions at a minimum (Erik Murphy's utility was massively underrated), but it also played ferocious defense, and having both Kenny Boynton and Wilbekin made life hell for opposing guards. That team was good for one killshot run per game, at least, and it dusted any team that allowed more than one.

    This team can't ever get more than three shooters on the floor at one time (Wilbekin, Frazier, and Finney-Smith would be the three), and Wilbekin playing almost exclusively at the point (though Donovan's tried him at off guard with Hill initiating offense of late) reduces his effectiveness as a shooter. You've watched him consider shots for a split second before resetting the offense just like I have; I think having to make that calculation as a point guard, instead of just letting shots fly as Frazier does or Wilbekin did when he was playing more off the ball, makes him less likely to shoot good shots. And most Wilbekin threes are good shots: He's made 37.3 percent of the threes he's taken in his four years, made 39.4 percent of his threes since his sophomore year, and made 20 of 49 threes (40.8 percent) this season. Certainly, a three is preferable to most of the rest of his runner- and floater-dependent repertoire: He's actually shooting better from distance than he is on twos (39.5 percent) this year.

    And while Wilbekin is still an excellent and hellacious defender, he's the guy for this team, and the minutes he's playing and the stress of his role have prevented him from really locking players down this year. He'll have one or two more games of truly awesome individual defense as SEC play continues, I believe, but playing 34 minutes a night has to be leaving him dog-tired by the late stages of games, and Florida just isn't as stocked with good and opportunistic defenders as it was last year.

    It all adds up to a team that often has to try harder to get wins than last year's team did. But this team has more close wins than that team ever got, so there are some benefits to being less overwhelming.

  14. Wilbekin's minutes are one really good reason to pull Wilbekin with five or more minutes left in games that are more or less decided, and his late turned ankle against South Carolina's another good reason to do it. I thought it was both amusing and a little mean of Donovan, who (accurately) called the drive that got Wilbekin hurt "out of control," to say, essentially, "Uh, that injury is on Scottie; he's got to do a better job of protecting himself." He's right that Wilbekin's got to avoid doing dumb things because of how important he is, but Donovan himself can help Wilbekin avoid doing those dumb things by giving him the rest of the night off when things get out of hand.

  15. By the way, here was some of Donovan's stated reasoning for keeping Wilbekin in the game: "You saw what happened. You get into a situation where we got outscored the last two minutes 11-3. You want to get guys off the floor, but if you put some of those guys on the bench, it's difficult." Yes, Florida allowed an 11-4 — Donovan had the numbers wrong — run to end the game ... but all it did was reduce Florida's margin of victory from 23 to 16. If that run had been a little worse, the Gators might have only won by single digits! The horror!

  16. Still love you, though, Billy.

Florida 84, Arkansas 82 (OT)

Game Thread | Recap

  1. This was Florida's best win of the season, bar none, because of how it happened.

    Florida knew it was dealing with the adversity of not having Prather and playing on the road at Arkansas, but the Gators also dealt with adversity throughout the game. The game looked like a shootout from the opening tip, with both teams hitting multiple threes in an 11-11 start over the first 5:59 of play, but Frazier picked up his second foul at that point, and sat for most of the first half, playing just one blink-and-you-missed-it minute late. Young picked up his second foul with 10:49 to go in the first half; he would sit until the second half. Yeguete, really Florida's lone interior defender left, picked up his second foul with 4:44 to go, and Donovan had to roll the dice and keep him in. And though Florida was playing good defense, the Razorbacks were bombing away from deep and making their free throws, keeping the pressure on the Gators to score with them despite having to rely on Wilbekin, Finney-Smith, and Hill to produce most of the offense.

    Florida did that, getting unique scoring plays like Kurtz making an incredible cut and Hill finding him with a great pass, and trailed by a point at the half. The second half was even tougher.

    Frazier was back, but he didn't add much until the final couple of minutes. Young was back, too, but he was having one of his quiet 10-7 games. Yeguete couldn't do anything on offense. Wilbekin was forced to do most of Florida's creating, and Finney-Smith most of Florida's scoring, and neither was doing much of it without the help of fouls that sent Gators to the free throw line, which probability suggested was actually a plight.

    Except the Gators stayed right at their average from the stripe in the second half, sinking eight of 12 in the second half (Florida's made 66.6 percent of its free throws through 17 games this season). And Finney-Smith kept coming up big, with seven points and six rebounds in the second half. And Frazier reappeared late to hit a gem-tying three. And Wilbekin, in the final seconds of the half, finished Florida's rally from a 64-57 deficit that feels like it would have fully felled last year's team by creating a difficult two-point fadeaway for himself — and making it.

    Florida did well just to get the game to overtime, then did well to seize control and never lose it in the extra period. A 5-0 run gave the Gators their largest lead of the day, and after a three from Rashad Madden in response, Florida made it an 11-3 run, going up 77-69 thanks to a personal 6-0 run from Finney-Smith, who finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds, all needed.

    The Gators would still find a way to make it close again, with Arkansas getting just enough ground back from missed free throws to trail 82-79 at one juncture, but great defense and two final free throws from Wilbekin — after he missed both shots in a trip to give the Hogs their chance to tie — staved off that final threat. Arkansas made a three at the buzzer — of course — but this was really more like a five-point win than a two-point win, and the Gators made that swing happen almost entirely in crunch time, and after an afternoon that seemed to give Arkansas every advantage.

    Three days later, Arkansas would get Kentucky (which was at full strength) in the same situation, and the Wildcats would rally for overtime, then give up the most exhilarating buzzer-beating shot of the year in college basketball. That loss wasn't a bad one for Kentucky, to be sure, but it helped illustrate just how hard it is to win in Bud Walton Arena, and exactly how impressive the Gators were the Saturday prior.

  2. I've been meaning to review and update my preseason rankings of Florida's players in order of importance, and might yet get to it by the end of January. But there's one thing I know I was totally wrong on: I had Scottie Wilbekin sixth.

    If I re-ranked those players today, I would put Wilbekin first without a second guess, and I would have to think long and hard about who would be second, even though Casey Prather's having an extraterrestrial senior season, Patric Young is as important as ever, and Dorian Finney-Smith still has the scariest potential of any eligible player. And that's not a slight to any of those players, or any other player on Florida's roster: It's just an acknowledgement that Scottie is really, really good, and even more important than he is good.

    Who does Florida turn to at the ends of halves and games? Scottie. Who is fully in charge of Florida's offense? Scottie. Who keys Florida's defense? Scottie. Whose individual peaks and valleys best correspond to Florida's peaks and valleys? Scottie. Who has the biggest dropoff to the next player at his position? Scottie. (And that's not a knock on Kasey Hill.) Who's the only player I worry about playing for too many minutes? Scottie. Who was absent for Florida's two losses, even if he was only really absent for the most critical moments of that Connecticut loss? Scottie.

    My totally faulty logic in ranking Wilbekin sixth was that he would stay in Donovan's doghouse beyond his season-opening suspension, and that Hill would take the reins of this team and refuse to let go. That didn't happen on either count, and Hill has been slower to put together his flashes into consistent excellence than I expected.

    But Wilbekin has also been better than I expected, despite the quibbles I mentioned in the South Carolina section, and he came through in a big way against Arkansas. It wasn't the only time he would do so during this four-game stretch.

Florida 72, Georgia 50

Game Thread | Recap

  1. In the hopes of you fine readers maybe eventually finishing this piece, I'm going to keep everything in this section to one paragraph.

  2. I tried to scalp a ticket a few minutes before the game. No one was selling tickets outside the O'Dome, so I ended up buying a ticket from the window. I tell you this story merely to remind you that if your plan is scalping tickets to a game with tickets still available, you need a better plan.

  3. It was 6-6 when I walked inside, and thus everything that happened after that point can obviously be karmically credited to me and me alone.

  4. Georgia is a bad team, again, but actually played like it against Florida after surprising Missouri on the road and beating Alabama at home, making exactly one third of both its two-pointers and its three-pointers, committing 15 turnovers, and letting Florida run all the way away.

  5. One good reason raw rebounding numbers are misleading: Florida and Georgia both had 34 rebounds in this game, and each team had 11 offensive and 23 defensive rebounds. But Florida missed just 29 shots, and so it rebounded 37.9 percent of its misses; Georgia missed 32 shots, and rebounded 34.3 percent of its misses. That difference is subtle, sure, but the percentage of misses grabbed is so much more illustrative than the number of rebounds tallied, and games like this one make that abundantly clear.

  6. Florida went on an 11-0 run that turned into a 24-4 run after that 6-6 start. (All credit to me, remember.) And Florida hit four threes during that stretch. Threes and defense are what make runs, especially big ones, happen.

  7. Florida would make just one three between the end of that run and the 4:47 mark of the second half.

  8. Finney-Smith had two of the early threes, and would make that lone three between runs, and his offense seems to finally be rounding out in step with his game. The Georgia game, in which he had 14 points, five boards, and three assists, was his second such game of at least 14-5-3, after his monster 22-15-3-1 line against Arkansas, and came despite it being his first game making fewer than half of his two-pointers since an epic 1-for-7 struggle against Kansas.

  9. And while I think Finney-Smith's struggles to finish around the rim are exaggerated, there's no doubt in my mind that he should take more threes. He's a good shooter (36.5 percent on threes this year), and when those threes fall, it more than makes up for his struggles underneath, and also opens up the floor for the rest of Florida's offense.

  10. Patric Young: 10 and 9. Ho-hum.

  11. Yeguete actually bettered Young in the points column in this game, scoring 12 points, and, again, he got going early, scoring Florida's first basket and putting in eight of his points before halftime.

  12. Another reason to see what Yeguete can do early on: If he's on or off, which is usually easy to tell, Florida's coaching staff can adjust to that on the fly. They more or less know what they're getting every night from Pat at this point.

  13. And, also, I think the rest that Yeguete got (Donovan gave him practice off on the Monday prior to the game) really did help his energy, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him play better off more rest in the future. For a guy whose energy has always been his most valuable asset, the surgeries and recoveries that have made it harder to bounce back have been arduous, and Donovan responding to that is a pretty savvy thing.

  14. Wilbekin had one of his quieter games of late in this one, scoring just seven points, but he did dish five assists, making the Georgia game his first outing with more than three assists since passing out six against Kansas.

  15. It is, perhaps, not a shocker that Wilbekin facilitating a little more also made for Florida's best night of offensive efficiency (1.17 points per possession) in 2014.

  16. Another thing that really, really helps offensive efficiency: Threes. Florida made 11 of them against Georgia, its best tally all year.

  17. Five of those threes came in the span from 7:32 left in the second half and 3:00 left, and they fueled a 21-7 run that threatened to turn a rout into a laugher.

  18. Michael Frazier had four of those threes, and they represented him finally turning on the jets after starting 1-for-8 from the arc.

  19. Frazier's 21 points were a new career high, too.

  20. And that, kids, is why you let a great shooter like Frazier shoot his way into and out of slumps.

  21. (I will come back to this in a moment.)

  22. How short is Florida's bench without Casey Prather and with Chris Walker still in purgatory? 10 players got minutes for the Gators against Georgia, but just seven are scholarship players.

Florida 68, Auburn 61

Game Thread | Recap

  1. Outside of Casey Prather being magisterial, Florida played like crap for about 30 minutes of this game. It still got what it needed when it needed it and won the game, but I can understand being unimpressed with how Florida played.

  2. But, man, Prather was good. He matched Frazier's 21 from three nights before with 21 of his own, required fewer shots to get those points despite not even taking a three, added six rebounds, and generally dominated whenever he had the ball. And yet it still felt like he didn't really control this game, maybe because he played "just" 29 minutes or came off the bench or missed a couple of free throws. He's a threat to go for 30 in owlish silence on any given night, especially against SEC teams with no clue how to take him away, and I bet he'll be adding thunderous dunks as he continues to recover from his knee injury.

  3. Beyond Prather, though, Florida was really meh on offense for most of this game. Take away his 8-for-10 night, and the Gators went 13-for-29 from the field, and just 3-for-9 from beyond the arc. Some of that had to do with Frazier, who was playing like crap and yo-yoed from the floor to the bench, not being on the floor to take and make threes and space things out. Frazier catching fire like he did against Georgia makes Florida nearly unbeatable, and Frazier being ice-cold largely nulls the Gators' second-leading scorer — but Frazier not even being on the court makes it a lot easier to pack the paint and make it harder for Gators to work their way to the rim for easy twos.

    Still, more Gators than Frazier struggled: Wilbekin had five turnovers, Hill did nothing other than get to the line (where he made seven of eight freebies, to be fair), and Finney-Smith (seven points, three boards) and Yeguete (four points, six boards) were held in check. It's good that Prather can be Batman, but he only has so many Batarangs. (In this metaphor, Batarangs are twisting finishes on quicksilvery drives.)

  4. Florida would also do well to prevent teams from staying with the plot until the final act. For Auburn, this was accomplished mostly with the three-ball, as late closes and good shots over Florida's zone kept both the Tigers within whispering distance of the lead. Not every team is going to start 6-for-6 from three against the Gators, and Auburn punched well above its weight in doing so; Chris Denson, who went just 2-of-5 from range, still increased his shooting percentage from three by 2.2 percent for the year with the performance. But Florida can do a better job of limiting threes and good looks, and needs to shore that up more than anything else.

  5. This was also the sort of game that I would love to see Chris Walker in. I'm curious how he would respond to Donovan telling his huddle "We're lethargic on offense and getting lit up on defense; Chris, get in there and do some things." I think it would be a strong response.

  6. Florida needed a strong response down the stretch, as Auburn closed to within a point with 1:59 to play. And facing another potential collapse, the Gators unspooled a 7-0 run that featured Wilbekin calmly creating and hitting another difficult two-pointer, four made free throws in six tries (again, right at their average, no worse), and Young catching a shot attempt flat-footed.

  7. Patric Young catching a shot attempt flat-footed to effectively end this game is such a perfect metaphor for so many things. I am so, so glad it happened.