In the wake of the Florida Gators’ disastrous 83-66 loss to Florida State on Monday, there is an obvious truth: Florida is much better when its shots go down.
That should not surprise, oh, anyone who has ever watched basketball, but it’s an especially relevant truth for this year’s Gators, set to meet Loyola — the Loyola in Chicago — at 8 p.m. in the O’Connell Center on Wednesday (SEC Network), at least for now. In losses to Duke and Florida State and a narrow win over New Hampshire, Florida has shot a combined 17-for-67 from distance.
Now, those numbers are actually reflective of genuinely bad performance against the Seminoles (6-for-25) and Wildcats (3-for-18) and a mediocre performance by established standards (8-for-20) against Duke, sure. But it’s telling that the Gators have lost, lost, and won by just seven points in a game that was never not close when making single-digit threes this year, and won by 42, 40, 21, and six — in double overtime, against last year’s national runner-up, before an emphatically partisan crowd — when they have made 11 or more.
And that’s just sort of reflective of where and what Florida is at this stage of the season: Without John Egbunu to anchor things down low, Florida does not have a consistent low-post offense or a great interior defense. The Gators are probably conditioned and coached to shoot early and often and better equipped to defend the perimeter at this moment — but it’s also not as if Mike White has a bunch of other choices.
And it’s also not as if Florida’s formula of shooting and shooting and shooting and raining down makes isn’t a good one.
That formula nearly helped beat Duke, and the argument in the wake of the Gators fading late was that they strayed from it. Florida State was a bad matchup for Florida, but the Gators helped out by missing open shots, taking bad shots, and failing to compete on the offensive glass — things they were not doing when they were flying high. If, all other things held equal, Florida had made 11 threes against FSU — which, rounding up from its current seasonal accuracy rate of 42.9 percent, would have been in line with expectations on 25 attempts — it would have won that game.
But maybe the Gators just started hot and will cool off, and maybe the offense predicated on smart, relentless ball movement and good shooters being empowered to shoot that we watched for a month was a mirage founded on unsustainable luck.
Florida’s first chance to start changing or reaffirming its truth begins on this night against a rather good Loyola of Chicago team. The Ramblers can shoot their way into and out of games just as easily as the Gators can: Snipers Lucas Williamson, Aundre Jackson, and Marques Townes are all making 45 percent of their threes or better this season — Williamson and Jackson are at sky-high 64 and 59 percent marks — and the somewhat less efficient Clayton Custer and Donte Ingram have made more triples with less accuracy.
But Loyola is also undersized, and terrible on the offensive glass — which should be a respite for the Gators, brutalized on the boards by the Seminoles. And though the Ramblers’ shooting stats are gaudy, and have fueled some respect from KenPom efficiency metrics, Loyola does not yet own a win over a team in the top 175 of KenPom this year, and got skunked by 34 on a road trip to Boise State.
Florida is, I firmly believe, a sight better than Boise State. And the Gators should cruise in this game if they can get their shots and get them fall.
If that doesn’t happen, though? Mike White may have to adapt to a changing reality, and start trying to find some other ways for his team to win.