Are the Florida Gators College Basketball's Most Underrated Team?
The Florida Gators are off to a good start this season and it shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The Gators have been a model of consistency for the last 15 years, ranking in the Top 40 at KenPom in all but one season since 2002, while also appearing in the Top 25 nine times and Top 10 six times.
In Mike White’s first season as head coach after taking over for Billy Donovan last year, Florida finished 35th at KenPom, but missed the NCAA tournament thanks in large part to a 6-9 record in games decided by six points or fewer (only 45 teams of the nation's 351 squads had a bigger gap between their expected winning percentage based on efficiency margin and actual winning percentage, per KenPom).
Poll voters have been slow to take notice, as Florida was ranked 23rd in the latest AP Poll. At the start of the week, the gap between Florida’s position in the poll and the nF power ratings is larger than any team ranked in the poll (Wichita State is 20th at numberFire, but unranked).
Resume vs. Quality
It’s not hard to see why Florida has flown under the radar.
While the Gators don’t have a bad loss, they lack both star power and marquee wins. Their best victories are probably a neutral site win over Miami and a win at Arkansas. These are solid, but probably won’t get anyone out of their seat.
This kind of resume test ("big wins," "bad losses"), while popular in the weeks leading up to March Madness, is a rather shallow assessment of team quality, and one that undersells squads like Florida.
While it can be useful to look at things like impressive wins or record against the Top 25 or Top 50, such analysis leaves out other games played, in addition to overlooking point differential.
Florida’s 12.4-point average margin of victory is 30th in the country, but according to KenPom, the Gators have played the seventh-most difficult schedule. Of the 29 teams with a larger average point differential, none have played a more challenging slate of opponents.
The Gators’ three losses were all close, away from home and against teams ranked in the Top 10 in the AP Poll: a five-point loss on a neutral court against fifth-ranked Gonzaga, a 10-point loss at Madison Square Garden to eighth-ranked Duke, and a five-point loss at ninth-ranked Florida State.
Florida has played eight other games against the KenPom Top 100, and among teams ranked by the AP, only Butler has played as many. The Gators have also only played three games against teams rated 200th or worse.
|Team||Top 100 Games||Games vs. Teams < 200|
Efficient on Both Ends of the Court
Florida is one of 13 teams to rank in the Top 25 in both opponent-adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency at KenPom.
Defense has been their calling card lately, as the team has ranked in the Top 15 in each of the past four seasons. This season, they are 15th in opponent-adjusted points allowed per possession, thanks in large part to their ability to force turnovers.
Opponents have turned the ball over on 20.5% of plays against Florida, which is tied for the 18th-best rate in the nation. The Gators are also tied for 18th in steals per possession, with guards Kasey Hill (1.9 steals per game), Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen (1.4 steals per game apiece) leading the way.
Florida’s shot defense is more pedestrian, as the Gators are tied for 132nd in effective field goal percentage against (48.3%), though it is important to keep in mind this has come against the fourth-most difficult slate of opposing offenses.
The biggest area of improvement for Florida has come on the other end of the floor, where they rank 22nd in offense at KenPom after finishing 84th last year.
In 2015-16, the Gators struggled mightily in terms of putting the ball in the basket and were tied for 249th in effective field goal percentage (48.4%) and 325th in free throw percentage (64.8%).
This season, they have improved from both the field (51.9% eFG%, which is tied for 137th) and free throw line (72.1%, tied for 99th). These marks are hardly anything special on their own, but in Florida’s case, they are combined with proficiency elsewhere on offense.
The Gators do not turn the ball over (tied for 21st in turnovers per play), get to the free throw line often (32nd in free throw attempts per field goal attempt) and are solid on the offensive glass (tied for 61st in offensive rebounding rate). They’ve done all of this against the 32nd-most difficult schedule of opposing defenses.
College of Charleston transfer Canyon Berry (Rick’s son) and Allen have been the team’s most involved offensive players, with usage ratings of 26.1% and 24.1%, respectively. Allen is the team’s leading scorer (14.2 points per game) and has a 116.0 Offensive Rating, while Berry is averaging 11.9 with a 121.1 offensive rating.
Devin Robinson is the team’s third leading scorer (11.8 points per game) and might be the team’s best two-way player. The forward leads the team in win shares (2.2), win shares per 40 Minutes (.224) and box plus-minus (9.2), according to Sports-Reference.com.
We're a long way from thinking about possible tournament sleepers, but if the Gators continue to excel at both ends of the court while flying under the national radar, they would be an excellent candidate.