Florida coach Billy Donovan has prided himself on developing up-tempo offenses that gives players freedom to drive to the basket in transition and fire up 3-pointers.
Under Donovan, the Gators have always found skilled passers and shooters and big men that can run the court.
But since 2011-12, Florida’s offense has been on a steady decline under the 19-year future Hall of Fame coach. After Florida averaged 75.9 points per game in 2011-12 with a team that featured one-and-done Lottery pick Bradley Beal and sharp-shooters Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, the Gators dropped to 71.4 ppg in 2012-13, 69.9 ppg last season and just 63.7 points per game this season.
UF’s scoring average this season (63.7 ppg) was its lowest in the shot-clock era and lowest since averaging 62.7 points per game in 1950-51. The Gators were held under 60 points in the eight times in 2014-15 and finished with a season-low 49 points in their season-ending 64-49 SEC Tournament loss over Kentucky.
Of course, last season’s team was remarkably consistent, winning 30 straight games to reach the Final Four for the fifth time in school history. But it was far from an offensive juggernaut. The Gators shot 46 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from 3-point range, mostly on the strength of guard Michael Frazier II. Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin were reliable scorers, but Patric Young was inconsistent scoring in the post. Will Yeguete was a non-factor offensively. But Yeguete, Wilbekin, Prather and Young were so talented and locked in on the defensive end of the floor that the Gators could get away with empty offensive possessions.
Because the Gators were so good defensively last season, Donovan said opposing teams slowed the pace.
“As much as wanted to try to play fast and push the basketball, it’s hard to play fast if a team wants to hold ball and milk the clock or be very patient and just elect to try to break your defense down,” Donovan said. “And I think any coach would say the same thing, the first five to eight seconds on a missed shot you’re trying to push it and get something early. After that you’re getting another 25 seconds that you can play with to make really, really good decisions about what kind of shots you want to get up. ”
Florida’s field goal percentage has declined from 47.8 percent in 2012-13 to 46 percent in 2013-14 to 43.4 percent this season. But another area that’s hurt UF dramatically on the scoreboard is free-throw shooting. The Gators have failed to shoot better than 70 percent from the free-throw line in each of their last three seasons. Florida was 67.7 percent from the line in 2012-13, 66.8 percent in 2013-14 and an SEC-worst 63.5 percent from the line this season. Poor free throw shooting cost the Gators chances to win against Connecticut, Ole Miss on the road and Missouri this season.
What’s the solution? Donovan suggested that it’s a personnel issue, so change will need to come with either current players developing or new players (incoming freshman, eligible transfers) making an impact. It may not happen overnight. Florida fans can point to Ole Miss’s entertaining 94-90 win over BYU in the NCAA Tournament as a style the Gators used to play. But in part due to Frazier’s late-season injury, the Gators didn’t have a player like Stefan Moody capable of taking over a game by making multiple 3-pointers in transition. Donovan didn’t have an experienced point guard like Jarvis Summers who could read the fast break, make smart decisions with the ball or have the confidence and skill to make pull-up jumpers in the lane.
“We have struggled to shoot the basketball and to take certain kinds of shots that I would consider a low percentage shot for a player,” Donovan said. “If you look at the stat sheet, we’ve got 3 or 4 guys in the low to mid-20’s from the 3-point line. And then obviously we have not been a great free-throw shooting team either.
“So you want to take really, really good shots that are available, but I’m not so sure I want Kasey Hill coming down in the first 10 seconds and bombing a 3-point shot. I don’t think that’s good for our team or good for him. Now, in the first 10 seconds if he can create penetration, that’s fine. But I think you want to be able to run offense and try to get shots guys are capable of making and are good shots for them. Certainly, it’s not a situation where you’re going down and trying to hold the ball. We don’t need to just jack up and bomb shots with a team that’s shooting the ball from certain positions we’ve shot the ball from.”