By any measure, statistical or empirical, Florida has been college basketball’s top-performing team this season.
The Gators are flush with balance unmatched by their contemporaries. They blend an explosive offense with the nation’s best defense, marry a dynamic backcourt to an imposing front line and own a frontcourt diversified with the physicality of Patric Young and Will Yeguete and the versatility of Erik Murphy at the stretch-4.
The results have reflected what the personnel has long projected: dominance. Billy Donovan’s team has clubbed opponents in SEC play, winning by an average of 26.5 points per game. The Gators sport the third-ranked scoring attack as measured by adjusted offensive efficiency as well as the nation’s most efficient defense.
But how much of Florida’s noteworthy success – the observable dominance backed by favorable statistical ratings – has to do with the team’s schedule? Perhaps more than you once thought.
Although the Gators have played the RPI’s fifth toughest schedule and ninth strongest as determined by the net winning percentage of their opponents, they haven’t fared so well versus the best teams on their slate. Florida has lost both games against the two highest-ranked teams it’s faced. It squandered a late 11-point lead in Tucson against Arizona – its best opponent this season – and fell to Kansas State in Kansas City.
Florida’s best win to date is a 33-point home pasting of Marquette, which is a few fortuitous bounces away from being firmly on the bubble. UF’s next best triumph according to the RPI? Middle Tennessee – the only Top 50 RPI team the Gators have defeated outside of Gainesville. Florida’s other Top 50 RPI wins – routs of Missouri, Wisconsin and Ole Miss – all came at the O’Connell Center.
Whether dominating good teams at home, as the Gators have done, is more impressive than merely clipping great teams is debatable. Duke, by comparison, has three RPI Top 25 wins and seven against the RPI Top 60. Even more impressive, six of the Blue Devils’ seven best wins have come away from Cameron.
On the flip side, the majority of Duke’s signature wins have come from closely contested games, Minnesota and Temple being the exceptions. The Gators have walloped good teams and struggled against the crème of the crop while Duke has leaned on a steady diet of success, if only unglamorous, against top-flight competition. Which is the better indicator of team prowess? That’s difficult to parse.
What we do know, however, is that Florida, despite a loaded roster and superlative statistical portfolio, still has more to prove. Even if the eye test and advanced metrics are ready to crown these Gators, a closer look at their résumé – and a humbling loss in Fayetteville – urges Florida endorsers everywhere (guilty) to tone it down a notch.