Bringing on new assistants can bring a host of new ideas to a coaching staff and with Florida bringing in Erik Pastrana from Oklahoma State and Akeem Miskdeen from Florida Atlantic there is an opportunity for some fresh concepts to be added to the Gators’ playbook.
Looking at how Oklahoma State and Florida Atlantic played last season we can see what they were doing from an X’s and O’s standpoint, and see what could help improve what the Gators are already doing.
Of course, assistants aren’t exact clones of the head coaches they work under, so they’re never going to see basketball the identical way. However, if these programs did something particularly well or had a concept that would fit Florida’s personnel it stands to reason they’d bring it to Mike White’s attention and that idea could be implemented.
For this particular coaching change and upcoming Florida basketball season, offense will be a major talking point. The last three seasons the Gators have been trying to find an identity offensively, feeling their way through dribble drive, Princeton, and continuity ball screen offenses, and nothing has particularly stuck. With the Gators bringing in a bunch of fresh talent for the 2021-22 season that have different skill sets than the players before them, they’re likely to be doing some searching offensively once again.
While this article will focus primarily on offense, that isn’t the only area these two assistants might bring some interesting ideas that worked well at their previous spots. For example, Oklahoma State played a ton of 2-3 matchup zone defense, something that should be intriguing to Florida who hasn’t had success in zone looks under White’s tenure. Florida Atlantic has been excellent on the defensive glass under Dusty May culminating with a 21st national ranking in the category last season, something White should absolutely be inquiring about considering under White the Gators have been 275th, 150th, 313th, 256th, 193rd, and 162nd.
Those were areas where Oklahoma State and Florida Atlantic were successful and hopefully Pastrana and Miskdeen will have some ideas on how Florida could piggyback on those ideas, but today we’re talking offense, starting with Pastrana and Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State was one of the more unique offensive teams in college basketball last season as they featured projected #1 NBA Draft pick Cade Cunningham, an offensive phenom who could score in a number of ways. Now, ideally you’d surround that kind of player with a lot of shooting to space the floor, but that wasn’t the case for the Cowboys who didn’t have a single player shooting above 33% from deep outside of Cunningham. For that reason they couldn’t just isolate Cunningham repeatedly or simply space the floor out for a spead ball screen, they had to be creative.
One thing the Cowboys did well that Florida fans are going to love is that they played with extreme pace. In terms of average possession length they were the 26th fastest team in the country, though that number doesn’t even tell the whole story of their dedication to high tempo.
22.5% of their shots came in transition, one of the highest numbers in the country. As a reference point, only 16.7% of Florida’s shots came in transition, and that was after a noted increase in dedication to playing fast following seasons where they were in the 11-12% range.
With Oklahoma State showing more steadfast dedication to playing fast than pretty much any other high major basketball team, despite so many teams claiming that they’re going to do so, you know that Pastrana truly knows what’s required for teams to play in transition. In the Cowboys’ transition offense you saw disciplined adherence to running lanes, sprinting to spots and stringing out backpedalling defenses. Transition was an opportunity to get quick drag ball screens for Cunningham where defenses weren’t positioned to trap or double him, and you could see they knew the value of these possessions.
It wasn’t just transition where Oklahoma State played a distinct and efficient brand of basketball as they ran some half court offense that was both aesthetically pleasing and effective.
One of their base offensive sets was the Iverson Rip series, a set up that begins with an Iverson cut. That’s where a player cuts from one side of the floor to the other in a straight line just above the free throw line. The ball is delivered to that player, and then a number of actions can happen on the weak side. Here is a collection of those plays.
Iverson series from Oklahoma State and @ErikPastrana. Lots of great options and reads they used. Open, Step, STS, Knicks, Rip. Plenty they ran out of the initial Iverson cut that made for some smooth half court possessions. pic.twitter.com/z23PyaKP2E
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) May 29, 2021
You’ll see them run what is commonly called “Open” (an empty side ball screen), “Knicks” (a dummy ball screen before a reversal into the main ball screen), “Step” (a high ball screen option), “Rip” (a back screen for a post player), and “Screen The Screener” where the player setting the back screen into the post then gets a pin down for an open jumper.
These are simple but effective sets that are clearly something the Gators could steal. The Iverson series would be good for Florida because it does a few things that their half court offense has lacked the last few seasons. First, it has more off the ball than on ball movement. That gets more players involved than the heavy 1-5 pick and roll the Gators ran a lot last year, and it also occupies more defensive players meaning that there are more opportunities for breakdowns and catastrophic failure that end in easy buckets. The Iverson Series also has multiple reads that can be made out of the same play call, meaning if one option is taken away it can flow into another. If the Open side ball screen isn’t there, quick reverse for a Knicks screen. Rip screen gets taken away from the defense? Pop the screener out for screen the screener action. Florida’s offense has been quite linear recently, meaning if one action was snuffed out, the set was dead and the Gators had to back it out and try again.
There are some clear areas of improvement that Florida could make upon observing what Oklahoma State did and hopefully Erik Pastrana will bring those ideas to Gainesville.
In terms of improving their half court offense there are also several concepts that Mike White could try to glean from Akeem Miskeen’s time at Florida Atlantic.
Florida Atlantic head coach and former Florida assistant Dusty May has shown himself to be a creative offensive mind that can adapt to the talent he has and he did a number of interesting things offensively that the Gators respectfully could, and should, steal through Akeem Miskdeen.
For starters, Florida Atlantic was one of the best post up offensive teams in the country last season averaging 1.1 points per possession on these plays, and on high volume (nearly 6 possessions per game). The Gators were at 0.93 points per possession on these sets, which is actually decent, but nowhere near the lethal Florida Atlantic post offense.
Florida Atlantic’s post up offense should be particularly interesting to Florida since their number one offensive option could very well be center Colin Castleton next year, should he return from testing the NBA Draft waters. Florida had decent but not great success with Kerry Blackshear a year ago, so their ability to showcase centers could use a bit of an overhaul.
The Owl’s post up offense was so effective because they had movement away from the ball after entry passes, and not just movement for the sake of movement, but movement with intent. There were timely cuts, screens for shooters, and appropriate spacing that allowed their post players to operate one on one without fear of swarming double teams. Oftentimes the Gators were stagnant after entering the ball to Castleton, making the offense easy to defend.
Much like saying they want to play fast but not actually doing so, lots of coaches and teams say they want to get up a ton of threes but then aren’t actually able to follow through. However, Dusty May, Akeem Miskdeen, and Florida Atlantic said they wanted to shoot a lot of threes and actually followed through.
In the last three seasons Florida Atlantic has been 76th, 72nd, and 34th in the country in three-point attempts making them one of the most consistent three-point shooting teams in the country. Last year the Gators were 264th, a bit of a surprising number considering how many three-point threats the team had on the roster.
One reason why Florida Atlantic was able to get so many threes up, and why the Gators weren’t able to, was running shooters off screens. Using flare screens and pin downs to free up shooters was a big part of Florida Atlantic’s offense and it was almost entirely absent from Florida’s. The Owls had nearly quadruple the number of shots off screens that the Gators did, and this is where you’d love to see Miskdeen taking some of that Florida Atlantic offense to Florida. Here are a few of the plays Florida Atlantic ran for shooters:
Some simple but super effective series of dribble handoff plays from Florida Atlantic. First, a dribble handoff into corner fade that I really love, then a dribble handoff flare they like to run that gets quality three point looks. Great quick hitters for shooters. @CoachKeem pic.twitter.com/LEH1YQkoR2
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) May 29, 2021
These plays might look completely foreign to you because it’s entirely unlike anything the Gators have done recently but they are beautiful sets. Simple, low-risk options that can get high quality three-point shots which in a lot of ways is the name of the game in modern basketball.
Usage of screens for shooters is something that the Gators should take note of generally, but especially for Penn State transfer Myreon Jones. Jones was a 15 point per game playing in the Big Ten, something that should bode well in the SEC, but Florida should be aware of how he got his points. Penn State ran him off a lot of screens which gave him both catch and shoot opportunities and chances to attack off curls, and if they were to not run any of those types of plays for him the points that are likely expecting could start to dip quickly.
Miskdeen’s knowledge of running screens for shooters at Florida Atlantic could bring some positive change to Florida’s half court attack, and it’s something worth watching for in the upcoming season.
Exactly how Erik Pastrana and Akeem Miskdeen will change how the Gators play offense is impossible to know but it’s clear that they have some knowledge that could really help the attack which could be huge for a Florida team that is looking to improve their efficiency all around.