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Florida vs. FSU, Game Thread: Explosive Gators look to stop Seminoles’ streak

Florida hasn’t beaten FSU since 2013. But these Gators bring a bit more firepower to the court.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Florida Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Six games and just under a month into a 2017-18 season that will stretch for more than 30 games and four months, we are probably allowed to at least have strong assumptions about the Florida Gators.

Heading into their Monday night rivalry showdown with Florida State (9 p.m., ESPN2), those assumptions would seem clear: Florida is an elite offensive team, and not nearly as good on defense.

I think those assumptions are right — but that they may actually be too timid, given what the Gators have actually done on both ends of the floor this year.

On offense, there’s little disagreement that the Gators are potent. In Jalen Hudson, Egor Koulechov, and KeVaughn Allen, Florida has three go-to scorers with the confidence and versatility to get buckets and get points in a variety of ways. Hudson has drilled an absurd 19 of 40 threes in just six games, but Koulechov is hitting at a slightly better clip — 48.5 percent to Hudson’s 47.5 percent — and has 16 triples of his own. Allen is lagging behind those two from distance, connecting on just 34.3 percent of his threes, but he’s also made 23 of 25 free throws — still good for only second among Gators, given that Koulechov has made 19 of 20 donations at the charity stripe, but an incredible rate on its own.

But the scary thing is that Chris Chiozza has fashioned himself into either a hyperefficient shooter or a genuine scoring guard, depending on the situation. Chiozza’s 10-for-17 clip on threes isn’t just better than Koulechov’s rate — it’s 10 percent better, and 11th nationally. And his own 21-for-24 performance at the foul line is a frankly stunning improvement from even his very good shooting as a sophomore and junior, when he made just under 80 percent of his free throws.

If Chiozza can keep up nearly 60 percent shooting and nearly 90 percent shooting from the foul line at his current usage levels while also playing his brand of harrying, disruptive defense and running Florida’s offense like a Formula 1 driver at Monte Carlo, he’s going to be in the running for SEC Player of the Year honors at season’s end — and probably national laurels, too. That’s an enormous ask, given that his shooting numbers are so aberrational over such a small sample size, but it’s the sort of start he’s off to this season.

Yet Chiozza is but one engine in Florida’s jet-fueled offense, one that is first nationally in scoring average and raw efficiency — pure points per possession, basically — and near the top of national rankings in a slew of other offensive categories. Florida often puts Chiozza, Allen, Hudson, and Koulechov on the floor together, dares opponents to guard an offense that can and does hunt for threes and easy buckets like the Golden State Warriors, and puts together white-hot stretches of play as a result.

If the Gators’ shots are falling — as they do, often — it is impossibly hard to keep up with them.

There is one thing that helps opponents, though: Florida’s defense.

The Gators may be No. 1 in raw offensive efficiency, scoring some 1.27 points per possession, but they are allowing just under 1.03 points per possession — a substantial figure, one almost a full tenth of a point per possession more than what a stingy Florida defense allowed a year ago.

To put in perspective just how bad that is, that figure staying where it is for a whole season would mean Florida giving up the most points per possession it has conceded in the KenPom era. And Florida just doesn’t do that: The Gators have only given up more than a full point per possession once since 2001-02, despite a few teams famously reluctant to play defense, and has not been ranked outside the top 50 in raw defensive efficiency since 2011-12.

Adjusting for pace, though, is part of how KenPom measures teams’ strength. And those adjustments make Florida’s defense look a lot better: The Gators are No. 177 in raw defensive efficiency, but No. 21 in adjusted defensive efficiency, both because Florida games have been a few batons short of track meets this year and because the teams that Florida has played don’t like to go as fast as the Gators do.

To put that in a different way: Florida may be giving up more points per possession than usual, but the offenses Florida is defending are also getting more possessions than usual, and so the raw numbers may not be as troubling as they seem.

To elaborate: Duke is No. 1 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, and Gonzaga is No. 12; Duke scoring 87 points in 77 possessions and Gonzaga scoring 105 points in 90 possessions against Florida are, yes, high raw totals, but they’re also not beyond the realm of reasonable outcomes, given those games’ absurd paces. (A 90-possession game is rare, even with two overtime periods — The Citadel, the nation’s fastest-paced team by more than a possession per game, has played just four 90-possession games this year.)

And to put a bow on that discussion: Florida is giving up more points and points per possession than usual, but it is also simply playing at a higher tempo than usual, and thus those numbers are skewed to some extent by that pace.

What does that mean for Florida going forward? Probably that high scores will be the norm for the Gators until further notice — and also that the Gators’ defense is not doing the best possible job of per-possession work, and somewhat susceptible to great offense.

If Florida loses this year, all signs are that it will be in games when the other team is as hot or hotter, as was the case against Duke, or a game in which Florida is unseasonably cold and an opponent executes, as New Hampshire did while throwing a scare into a team that could not buy a bucket at Home Depot with the football team’s surreptitiously obtained credit cards. (Too soon? Whatever. Only four of you are still reading.)

What does it mean for Florida’s game against the Seminoles? Probably that FSU does have a chance to extend its winning streak over Florida to four games — if it can keep up with the Gators, or stop the rain of threes from falling.

I’m not particularly worried about either of those prospects, because of how fresh and angry Florida may well be after a week off to take exams and lick wounds after collapsing down the stretch against Duke and because of how Leonard Hamilton’s team is built — as ever, seemingly, the ‘Noles want to bludgeon foes inside, and Terance Mann, Phil Cofer, and Braian Angola have all shot better than 64 percent on twos this season, with the Seminoles also snagging nearly 40 percent of their possible offensive rebounds. FSU would prefer to run, but at the rim; Florida, playing at home and in front of a crowd that should be somewhere between raucous and deafening, will run and gun, and may well take as many threes as twos.

So long as a signicant portion of those threes fall in Rainesville, the Gators should come out on top.