Florida's staff leans on advanced hoops metrics


Florida coach Billy Donovan (right) watches from UF's bench during the first half of the Gators' 79-59 win over Middle Tennessee State at the O'Connell Center on Nov. 21.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, December 27, 2013 at 8:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.

When Florida plays Savannah State on Sunday at the O'Connell Center, eyes will be fixed on freshman point guard Kasey Hill racing down the court on a fast break or senior forward Casey Prather skying for a highlight-reel dunk.

But in the days leading up to the game, a group of student managers, video coordinators and staff members will chart each possession in practice, searching for trends to give the No. 13 Gators any advantage possible.

Florida coach Billy Donovan is among a growing number of college basketball coaches who use advanced basketball research metrics as a tool. But Donovan said he tries not to get too lost in the numbers.

“I've always been a big statistical guy, a big numbers guy,” Donovan said. “I kind of like that. But I think you also have to look at numbers-wise what actually makes sense to share with your team.”

For instance, Donovan found Prather's plus-minus ratio, which compared points scored for the Gators to points scored against UF when the 6-foot-6 forward was on the floor, was higher when he played at the power forward position. Conventional wisdom would have had Prather subbing for Mike Rosario last season and playing small forward. But Donovan often subbed Prather for Erik Murphy instead.

“I'll take different lineups, what's our best defensive lineup, what we think is our best defensive lineup, what works in games, what's our worst, what's our best offensive lineup, what's our worst,” Donovan said. “Where is a guy like Casey Prather most effective? Where is his plus-minus chart most effective? Is that the small forward or power forward spot? I like looking at all of those numbers, just more than anything else, it forces me to think and evaluate.”

The roots of Florida's advanced statistical analysis date back to 2004 when former Florida assistant coach Larry Shyatt charted hustle stats. Florida assistant coach Matt McCall, then the head student manager for the Gators, was among those who kept tabs on deflections, charges and steals.

“Interesting his first year, we had that class with (Joakim) Noah, (Al) Horford, (Corey) Brewer and all those guys, like Horford and Brewer, would win the hustle stats every week and those guys played,” McCall said. “Those guys started as freshmen, so it was kind of a direct correlation.”

McCall said the Gators have tweaked the hustle chart over the years, while adding assist-to-turnover ratio analysis, offensive efficiency ratings and defensive efficiency ratings.

“That's obviously points per possession,” McCall said. “Especially on defense, we really look at it a lot.”

Last season, Florida ranked first in the Southeastern Conference in points per possession on offense (1.14 scored) and defense (0.85 allowed). Not surprisingly, the Gators won the SEC with a 14-4 league record and reached the Elite Eight with a 29-8 overall record.

While Florida's 54.4 points allowed per game ranked third nationally, its 0.85 points allowed per possession was second in the nation behind Stephen F. Austin (.82).

“We were second in the country last year in DPR (defensive possession rating), and we were third in the 10 years in that rating,” McCall said. “The only team that was higher than us was Louisville.”

Florida enters the Savannah State game 45th in the nation in points per possession (.95). Several factors have contributed to the dropoff, including the early season suspension of Scottie Wilbekin, facing a tough non-conference schedule and the loss of quality perimeter defender Kenny Boynton. But Donovan has preached since October that the Gators have “a long way to go” to match their defensive effectiveness from last season. So far, the numbers have proved him right.

“Certain things our guys need to understand statistically,” Donovan said. “Like, you can look at field goal percentage defense, and you can look at a stat sheet and say, 'Hey coach, this team shot 50 percent from the field, what did you think of your defensive effort?' Well, by that statistic it doesn't look great, but maybe we forced 26 turnovers which led to 20 points in transition. You are looking at every possession.”

Through the work of UF video coordinator Oliver Winterbone, McCall said the Gators can also chart defensive positioning in practice.

“(We) try to break that down on film and make sure that we show them where they are supposed to be and if they are not here try to get them in the right position,” McCall said.

With the amount of data at Donovan's disposal, the veteran Florida coach manages each game with a combination of number-crunching and feel.

“I've always liked looking at statistics because they make me think,” Donovan said.

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