Night Line: Is Florida a Better Offensive Team This Season?Posted by EJacoby on November 15th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
The #12 Florida Gators have high expectations this season, as usual, with a loaded starting lineup that features two returning SEC stars and a bevy of other talented scorers. But Billy Donovan’s team lost much of its backcourt production from last season in Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, the second- and third-leading scorers on last year’s team who also accounted for over 40% of the squad’s total assists. Those 2011-12 Gators ranked sixth in the nation in overall offensive efficiency and came just a few plays away from reaching a Final Four. Yet does this season’s version of Florida have an even higher ceiling? Conventional wisdom would say no given the loss of its two perimeter leaders, but a strong recruiting class joins a healthier team this year, most notably a much improved senior forward Erik Murphy. Wednesday night’s 74-56 victory over defensive stalwart Wisconsin, featuring a perfect shooting night from Murphy, provided a glimpse of UF’s offensive upside that few teams in the country can match.
The Gators attempted and made the most three-point shots in all of Division I last season (9.6 makes per game), a crucial element to the team’s conversion of 1.15 points per possession, good for fifth in the country. While Walker and Beal’s 132 three-point makes are gone, don’t be so sure that Florida will fall off in the long-range shooting department. Preseason all-SEC senior guard Kenny Boynton and the aforementioned Murphy return 169 makes of their own, sparkplug sixth man Mike Rosario hit over one trey per game last year as well, and a loaded recruiting class of shooters joins the fold. Braxton Ogbueze headlines the freshman class as a heady point guard, while fellow newcomers Michael Frazier II, Devon Walker, and Dillon Graham all specialize as three-point bombers. Graham models his game after J.J. Redick, Walker has unlimited range from outside, and UF assistant coach Mike McCall noted this preseason of Frazier, “Every time [the ball] leaves his hand, you think it’s going in.” The Gators are already scoring at a more consistent rate this year with a 1.18 points per possession ratio. While only two games is an extremely small sample size, Wednesday’s game came against Bo Ryan’s Badgers; a masterful defensive team that finished seventh in total defensive efficiency last season.
On Wednesday, it was Murphy’s perfect shooting night that led the way for Florida. The senior ‘stretch four’ forward hit all 10 of his field goal attempts, including 2-2 from deep, and both of his free throws en route to 24 points. There might not be another player in the country all season that attempts as many shots and converts every single one of them this year. He won’t be this good again, but Murphy has the skills to continue shooting a great percentage this season. Not only is he a strong outside shooter, but Donovan also notes that the senior worked this summer on his “touch and skill level around the basket.” Given the number of other weapons on the floor – we haven’t even mentioned starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin (currently suspended), talented reserve forward Will Yeguete, or physical specimen and all-SEC caliber forward Patric Young – Murphy will have plenty of room to operate this season to find scoring opportunities.
If Florida is going to challenge for an SEC title this season, it also needs to maintain better health. Murphy, Rosario, and Yeguete all missed time last year with injuries, the latter of whom missed the entire postseason. But this season’s roster, in which nine players logged time on Wednesday without the services of Wilbekin, begins this campaign at full health. Should the pieces stay intact for much of the year, these Gators just might have an even better offensive unit than we saw in 2011-12. Putting up 74 points on 50% shooting against one of the nation’s perennially great defensive teams is a great start, and Florida will look to build on Wednesday’s victory with plenty of other challenging games that await on the non-conference slate.