Florida Gators Basketball: Positive Takeaways From Loss To Gonzaga

The Florida Gators basketball lost 77-72 to the No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs, but there were a number of positive takeaways to be found in the performance.

Nov 24, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Florida Gators guard Canyon Barry (24) reacts and claps during the second half against the Seton Hall Pirates at HP Field House. Florida Gators defeated the Seton Hall Pirates 81-76. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators men’s basketball team is off to an extraordinary start to the 2016-17 college basketball season. Florida entered its game against Gonzaga with five wins over teams that played postseason basketball in 2015-16, including two that made the NCAA Tournament.

Matched up against the No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Advocare Invitational, the Gators performed well during a 77-72 loss.

Though the outcome wasn’t ideal, Florida played an outstanding game against one of the best teams in the country. It made life difficult on defense and received a number of strong performances from key players.

If nothing else, this game fell right in line with head coach Mike White’s belief that the true value of these early games are the lessons that can be learned from them.

White commented that, “Right now it’s more about us continuing to improve,” following the 81-76 win over the Seton Hall Pirates. This game was a shining example of why the Gators’ loss to the Bulldogs can be spun in a positive light.

The question is: what positive takeaways can be found from the Florida Gators’ close encounter with the Gonzaga Bulldogs?

Nov 24, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Florida Gators head coach Mike White talks wth guard Kasey Hill (0) against the Seton Hall Pirates during the second half at HP Field House. Florida Gators defeated the Seton Hall Pirates 81-76. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

5. Kasey Hill Stepped Up

When the Florida Gators landed Kasey Hill in the recruiting class of 2013, many expected him to become the next big star in Gainesville. He was one of the Top 10 players in his recruiting class and seemed to have the tools to be a one-and-done superstar.

Though his jump shot still isn’t working, Hill stepped up on both ends of the floor against Nigel Williams-Goss and the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Hill shot 0-of-2 from the floor, but he went 6-of-6 from the free throw line. He finished with eight points, seven assists, four rebounds, one offensive board, two steals, and a block to just two turnovers in 32 minutes.

Nigel Williams-Goss may have posted more prolific scoring numbers, but Hill facilitated the Gators’ offense and played outstanding defense for stretches of the game.

If other players can step up as scorers, Hill’s ability to defend and facilitate will be enough for Florida to reach the NCAA Tournament. His fearlessness as a playmaker and tenacity as a defender are invaluable strengths.

Hill’s isolation tendencies hurt the Gators late, but he played the type of game that Florida needs him to for a vast majority of this contest.

Nov 21, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida Gators guard Canyon Barry (24) shoots a granny shot free throw during the second half against the Belmont Bruins at Amalie Arena. Florida Gators defeated the Belmont Bruins 78-60. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4. Free Throw Shooting

During the 2015-16 college basketball season, the Florida Gators were No. 331 in the country in free throw percentage at .647. Florida was also No. 104 at 15.9 free throws made per game despite being No. 41 at 24.7 free throw attempts per contest.

Against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Gators shot 22-of-24 from the free throw line—an awe-inspiring mark of 91.7 percent.

It’s highly unlikely that Florida will shoot above 90 percent from the free throw line in 2016-17. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to note that the Gators have shot 75 percent or better in four of six games, including two games above 80 percent and another at 79.2.

In the two exceptions, Florida hit 19 free throws at a clip of 65.5 percent and sank 21 free throws on 72.4 percent shooting.

Whether or not the shots are falling, the Gators are doing an outstanding job of creating contact and getting to the line. With better free throw shooters and an offseason of emphasizing improvement, the results are trending in Florida’s favor.

If the Gators can consistently sit around 75 percent from the free throw line or better, this team will be difficult to stop.

Nov 21, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida Gators center John Egbunu (15) grabs an offensive rebound over Belmont Bruins forward Evan Bradds (35) and forward Amanze Egekeze (32) and guard Dylan Windler (3) during the first half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

3. Dominance On The Offensive Glass

The Florida Gators have been surprisingly strong on the offensive glass. Florida doesn’t have an elite rotation of players as it pertains to height, but there are explosive athletes and powerful big men who can bully opponents down low.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs witnessed first hand how tenacious that group can be when Florida put forth a display of pure dominance on the offensive boards.

Florida pulled down 16 offensive rebounds to 12 by the opposition. That’s quite impressive when one considers that Gonzaga big men Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski are both 7’0″ or taller, and Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams are 6’9″ or taller.

If that’s not enough to keep you intrigued, all five starters and eight of the nine players who saw court time for Florida had at least one offensive board, including three players who pulled down three.

For those who believe this was a fluke performance, Florida now has at least 11 offensive rebounds in five of its six games. That includes the 17 it had against Mercer and the 14 it recorded against both Florida Gulf Coast and St. Bonaventure.

With 28 offensive rebounds over the past two games—both of which were against NCAA Tournament level opponents—the Gators can clearly get after the offensive boards as well as any team in the country.

Nov 11, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Florida Gulf Coast Eagles forward Kevin Mickle (10) defends Florida Gators guard KeVaughn Allen (5) in the second half at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Florida Gators 80-59. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

2. KeVaughn Allen Is Approaching Stardom

The Florida Gators’ fatal flaw in 2015-16 was the absence of a player who could consistently take over against high-quality competition. After Dorian Finney-Smith, if not ahead of him, one could argue that the closest thing to a true No. 1 scoring option was freshman KeVaughn Allen.

Now a sophomore, Allen is developing into the star-caliber scorer that he’s proven capable of becoming.

Allen shot poorly against the No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs with marks of 7-of-17 from the field and 1-of-7 from 3-point range. He managed to score 15 points, however, and maintained the type of aggressiveness that a star scorer must possess.

Make or miss, Allen kept shooting—exactly what head coach Mike White needs him to do at this stage of the 2016-17 season.

Allen scored 21 points against the Seton Hall Pirates and had at least 13 points in each of the previous three games. That includes his 16-point performance against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies and his 13 points and five assists in 26 minutes against Mercer.

Whether or not he shoots well, the Gators can feel encouraged knowing that Allen isn’t letting a poor shooting night break his confidence.

Nov 21, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida Gators head coach Mike White pumps his fist against the Belmont Bruins during the first half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. Florida Should’ve Won

Generally speaking, the team that wins is the team that should have won. True as that may be, this was one of the rare exceptions; the Florida Gators should’ve defeated the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and there’s only one reason they didn’t.

Forget about any defensive lapses, unnecessary fouls, or disappointing efforts on the defensive glass; Florida lost because it was awful from beyond the arc

The Gators shot 2-of-19 from 3-point range, which is a statistical anomaly for any team—proficient from distance or otherwise. Considering this was a five-point loss, it stands to reason that even going 4-of-19—21.1 percent—would’ve been enough to win.

In other words: the Gators were a historically bad shooting performance away from securing a victory over the No. 11 team in the country on a neutral site.

That’s more encouraging in the sixth game of the season than it is disappointing.

It’s undeniably concerning that Florida is capable of going this cold from distance, but that’s a manageable flaw. The Gators went 4-of-15 from distance against Florida Gulf Coast and 5-of-21 against Belmont, but it also hit eight 3-point field goals in each of the other three games.

The 3-point shooting and free throw shooting may even out to an extent, but Florida would take a couple of more threes for a handful of missed ones any day of the week.

The end result may have been underwhelming, but Florida proved to the selection committee that it can compete with Top 15 competition.

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