For years, it has felt like Florida’s men’s basketball team has been incredibly good at defending for almost an entire possession, only for the other team to hit an absurd three as the shot clock expired. It’s become so prevalent for me, in fact, that I’ve tweeted the hashtag #Science — which I’d define as shorthand for a sarcastic (and false) assertion that the uncanny capacity to do that to the Gators’ defense, so good for most of these recent years, is, in fact, skill-based, rather than total luck — 13 times since January 2015.
Add to that hashtag its predecessor, #NBAThrees — a bit more self-explanatory, I’d think? — and you get me whining more than two dozen times since 2013 about improbable shots drained against the Gators.
Did all of those shots justify the callout? Did I call out all the shots that did? I can’t tell you that, of course, just like Florida’s coaches can’t divine whether the spate of sprayed threes falling will end. But I can tell you I’m ready to fire out more tweets during Monday’s game against Belmont (7 p.m., SEC Network or WatchESPN).
That’s because the Bruins are three-happy, and may be more so than any team in recent memory in college basketball. Through two games, they’ve hoisted 75 triples, and sunk 25.
And that’s actually really smart: Making exactly one third of the threes a team takes doesn’t count as shooting a great percentage, sure — but it’s the same as shooting 50 percent on two-pointers, a threshold more than half of the teams in Division I currently can’t reach. A “bad” three is generally still a better gamble than many “good” twos, when it comes to expected outcomes; Belmont has taken this lesson to heart, and applied it to its offense.
See, Belmont doesn’t take “good” twos — it takes great ones. The Bruins have been in the nation’s top three in two-point field goal percentage in each of the last four years, and they’re third again in the early goings this year. Every Bruin took more field goal attempts at the rim than as two-point jumpers in 2015-16, and the Bruins as a team have taken 12 of them through two games this year.
KeVaughn Allen alone has taken 13 two-point jumpers for Florida this year.
By banishing low-percentage two-pointers from its offense, Belmont focuses on the shots it can get the most value from — higher-percentage looks at the rim, and threes that give you, er, three points. That is part of why Belmont has had a top-five offense in offensive efficiency for each of the past five years — something that only two other schools have done twice in that span.
Of course, Belmont does this partly because Belmont has to do this. Rick Byrd’s squad is built to shoot, not to bang, and has given exactly 11 minutes (of the 400 available) to players taller than 6’8” or heavier than 220 pounds this year. It’s not just John Egbunu who is bigger and stronger than every Bruin — Devin Robinson might be, too, and the Gators should be able to rule the glass this evening.
And when Belmont is cold — it made nine of 41 threes against Vanderbilt, which is so horrific a percentage (22.0) that Florida’s notorious brick-layers only shot worse than that from distance eight times in 2015-16 — it is very much vulnerable. The Commodores led for almost the entire game, and by six or more points throughout the second half, in an 80-66 win. Last year’s Bruins went 2-7 when shooting 30 percent or worse from three.
But therein lies the rub: They did that just nine times in 32 games. That’s part of why that team knocked off Marquette and beat Valparaiso, and rolled up 20 wins for the sixth straight time under Byrd, and why this year’s Belmont might make the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time since 2006.
Florida is in for a challenge tonight in Amalie Arena. If #Science could take the evening off as they play in the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, that’d be great.