Analyzing Florida’s Non-Conference SchedulePosted by KAlmekinder on October 25th, 2012
High expectations are floating around Gainesville this season, and with good reason. The Florida Gators look to expand on last year’s loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight with veteran players, key transfers, and a challenging non-conference slate. Experienced returnees Kenny Boynton, a preseason all-SEC First Team pick earlier this week, Erik Murphy, a three year letterman and post defender with good perimeter range, and reserve Scottie Wilbekin, a deadly three-point shooter at over 45%, lead the charge as the Gators will challenge Kentucky and Missouri for the SEC crown.
While the departures from last year’s team only includes Bradley Beal and Erving Walker (a combined 26.9 points per game on 42.1% shooting), the Gators will miss Beal’s steadiness on the floor and his play-making ability. But the Gators will also miss Walker’s production in almost every offensive category, most notably scoring (12.4 PPG), distribution (1.8 ATO), and durability (30.3 MPG). Head coach Billy Donovan has regrouped nicely after the losses of these two players, snagging transfers Dorian Finney-Smith, a 6’8″ sophomore forward from Virginia Tech, and 6’10″ forward Damontre Harris from conference foe South Carolina. Both players will have to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules but will be great practice acquisitions this year.
Is this the year the Gators get back to the Final Four, their first trip since they won it all in repeat fashion in 2007? The past seven years’ results tend to suggest positive news for Florida. Dating back to the first year of the Florida national title years — the 2005-06 season — the Gators have played a total of 18 top-50 teams (courtesy of KenPom.com) in their non-conference schedule, finishing with a record of 8-10. The rest of Florida’s non-conference slates have slowly decreased at the other extreme; in the same time span, the Gators’ games versus teams with a KenPom rating of #200 or worse have decreased substantially by one per year.
But how has Florida fared in the postseason? During the first title run, the Gators only played only one top 50 opponent and six with a rating of #200 or worse. Could the weak non-conference schedule have led to a young team’s six conference losses? Did Billy Donovan not know what to expect out of his squad early in the 2005-06 season with so many cupcakes on his plate? In February and March, the team gathered the chemistry to rattle off 11 straight wins in convincing fashion to win its first NCAA title and rising to second in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (119.4). The following year, Florida returned nearly every player on the team. Did Donovan and the coaching staff vamp up their scheduling because of the returning veterans? An increase by three top-50 opponents (while also increasing opponents #200 or worse) still aided a 24-2 start to the season. By season’s end, Florida had not only repeated as champions, but also boasted the top adjusted efficiency rate at 125.4.
With the mass exodus to the NBA after back-to-back national championships, Florida missed out on the NCAA Tournament in 2008 (NIT semifinalist) and 2009 (NIT quarterfinalist), both years where their scheduling numbers were lower on high quality opponents and higher in poor ones. Since then, the numbers have again reversed and the Gators have been in the Big Dance for the past three seasons. In 2010, Florida lost in the first round by nine points to #7 seed BYU. The following year, the #2 seed Gators reached the Elite Eight, their first deep run since the 2007 national championship. Then they lost to the eventual national runner-up, #8 seed Butler in an overtime game. Last year, Florida repeated as Elite Eight participants but through a much more difficult path as a #7 seed. The Gators squandered a 15-point lead with 10 minutes to go against #4 seed Louisville and thus ended the opportunity to guarantee an SEC team in the championship game (the winner played Kentucky).
If recent historical trends suggest anything, Florida’s difficult non-conference schedule in the 2012-13 season is due to veteran leadership returning to Gainesville. Donovan knows that this team, after advancing to two straight Elite Eights, should already be prepared for not only a run through the SEC gauntlet and conference tournament, but also a deep run in March. A full schedule of the Gators’ season can be found here.
2012-13 Florida Non-Conference Schedule
- November 9 – Georgetown (in Jacksonville) (KenPom: 13)
- November 11 – Alabama State (KenPom: 323)
- November 14 – Wisconsin (KenPom: 5)
- November 18 – Middle Tennessee State (in Tampa)
- November 20 – Savannah State
- November 23 – Central Florida
- November 29 – Marquette (KenPom: 18)
- December 5 – at Florida State (KenPom: 24)
- December. 15 – at Arizona
- December 19 – Southeastern Louisiana (KenPom: 305)
- December 22 – Kansas State (in Kansas City) (KenPom: 25)
- December 29 – Air Force (in Sunrise, Florida)
- January 6 – at Yale
To use the same statistical ranges as before as well as the KenPom ratings based from last year’s results, this year’s non-conference schedule features five top 50 (actually, top-25) opponents as well as only two teams with a worse rating than 200, the best differential ratio in any season since the 2007 national championship squad.
The clear shift in Florida’s scheduling has to be seen as a positive. The combination of early tests by highly-rated opponents combined with key veterans back for another season should yield a high number of wins for the Gators and another good run at the Final Four in March. It will be interesting to see if Florida can continue this trend and finally end its recent Final Four drought. We will find out in just a few weeks.