How Rest Affected Florida Basketball’s Style Of Play

Florida played at one of the slowest paces in the country last season and for a team coached by Mike White, a man who has always preached about playing fast, this brought on a lot of questions.

Some of them circled around coaching and philosophy while others were pointed towards personnel and the skill sets of players on the roster. While those are definitely important pieces of the puzzle they can be a bit difficult to quantify and while I’m definitely interested in that conversation there was a different element of the Gators playing slow that made me want to dive into the numbers.

Rest.

Or, in some cases, lack there of.

The college basketball season is busier than ever and that makes for some interesting scheduling at times including a lot of inconsistency when it comes to rest days. For that reason I wanted to take a look at how the number of rest days affected Florida basketball.

Minute Distribution

This might come as a shock to you but the Gators actually didn’t ride their starters as much as you might have thought. According to KenPom the Gators were 143rd in the country in bench minutes so they actually utilized their secondary players a decent amount. It seemed like the Gators had to keep their starters in more than most teams they played but when you actually look at the numbers they did utilize their depth, I mean, what depth they did have due to injuries.

Andrew Nembhard was 297th in the country in percentage of a team’s minutes played at 81.3% and KeVaughn Allen wasn’t too far behind at 76% but other than that Jalen Hudson, Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke, and Kevarrius Hayes weren’t actually ran out for tons of minutes and seemed to have manageable loads.

Even though Florida’s starters didn’t get grinded as hard as you may have thought the Gators played one of the most difficult schedules in the country and the minutes played were tough ones. These were city miles, not highway miles being put up on the Gators and despite the minute totals not being humongous I think the roster was really taxed playing against some of the best and most physical teams in the country.

Rest Days Versus Win Totals

To start my study into how the amount of rest days affected the Gators I thought I’d do something simple. I decided to categorize each high-major game by how many rest days the Gators had before it and then see what the record was like.

For the record, I counted the NCAA Tournament game against Nevada as a high-major game. They were a quality opponent in a tough setting and including them gets another meaningful game into the sample size.

0 Rest Days

2 Wins
2 Losses

1 Rest Day

0 Wins
1 Loss

2 Rest Days

4 Wins
6 Losses

3 Rest Days

5 Wins
4 Losses

4+ Rest Days

4 Wins
3 Losses

So, when you look at that data… It doesn’t actually tell you a lot. There isn’t any major trend to see and while the Gators did slightly better with more rest days than less the disparity isn’t huge. But please, keep reading!

Rest Advantage

Another element I looked at that you might find interesting is rest advantage. Rest advantage is looking at the schedule and seeing which team had more rest days than their opponent leading up to the game.

Most of Florida’s games this season saw them get equal rest to their opponents with the Battle 4 Atlantis, most of the SEC schedule (more on that in a moment), and the SEC and NCAA Tournament making for equal rest days between the Gators and their opponents. However, when I look at all the high major games the Gators played this year they had 6 games where they had the rest advantage and 5 games where they had the rest disadvantage.

When they had the rest advantage they went 3-3 and the extra day didn’t seem to help them a lot.

When they had the rest disadvantage they went 0-5.

I find that number to be quite interesting.

(Okay, before I talk further, my note about the SEC schedule is that BOTH of Florida’s games against Kentucky saw the Gators getting a rest disadvantage. Considering how few rest advantages are given in SEC scheduling I find the fact that the Gators had two games against Kentucky with a disadvantage questionable)

What it tells me is that the Gators were definitely affected when they didn’t have enough rest but they also weren’t able to capitalize on having the rest advantage they had, perhaps because they didn’t play a fast enough style to punish tired teams.

Speaking of style…

How Did Rest Affect Pace Of Play?

So we know the Gators played slow this year but was that something they did consistently or was it something that was affected by how much energy they had in the tank?

To try and solve this I looked at the number of offensive possessions the Gators had in each game, an indication of how fast the team was playing in a given game. Since I already had all the Gators’ high major games sorted by rest days I could average the amount of possessions and see if there was correlation between rest and pace.

Oh, and a note. The Gators had 3 overtime games this year and that extra time obviously would have made for more possessions and would have skewed the average so in those 3 games I prorated the amount of offensive possessions to a regular 40-minute game. Here are the average possessions per game for each amount of rest.

0-1 Rest Days

Average Offensive Possessions: 61

2 Rest Days

Average Offensive Possessions: 62

3 Rest Days

Average Offensive Possessions: 64

5+ Rest Days

Average Offensive Possessions: 68

What if I told you that you could fairly accurately predict how fast the Gators were going to play by how many rest days they have? Pretty crazy, right? But it looks like you can. There is a definite trend here and it shows that the more rest the Gators have the faster they play.

Whenever I talk about Florida’s pace I always bring this up, so I’m sorry if you’ve heard it before.

Playing faster doesn’t always equal better. College basketball history has shown that being efficient while playing at a slow to medium pace brings the most success and if you have any question about that look at the Final Fours and National Champions of the last few years.

While you don’t have to necessarily take this as faster is better, it’s very interesting that rest seems to directly correlate with pace for the Gators.

Now, I wonder what else I could predict based on the number of rest days for the Gators…

Transition Opportunities

Looking at the number of offensive possessions the Gators had tells a good bit of the story in terms of style of play versus amount of rest but I think there could be an even better indication and that’s transition opportunities. How often the Gators decided to run out is in their hands even more than the number of offensive possessions they have and looking at their average transition opportunities for each amount of rest days could yield some interesting results. If they’re more rested are they more willing to look to run in transition and if they’re tired do they take things slow? Let’s take a look

0-1 Rest Days

Average Transition Opportunities: 6

2 Rest Days

Average Transition Opportunities: 8

3 Rest Days

Average Transition Opportunities: 10

5+ Rest Days

Average Transition Opportunities: 14

Once again there seems to be a direct correlation between how fast the Gators want to play and how rest plays a role. These numbers and the differences between rest and transition opportunities are actually massive.

Hey, between the average number of possessions and average number of transition opportunities per rest day I think you and me could make some extremely accurate predictions moving forward.

I find these numbers about transition opportunities particularly interesting because there is a major difference in offensive efficiency in transition versus in the half court. The Gators were at 1.064 points per possession in transition versus 0.869 points per possession in the half court which is a major difference. That means the 14 transition possessions they had in well-rested games versus the 6 in extremely short rest situations or even 8 in 2 day rest situations is really big. I think this number really matters and it’s something the coaching staff should put some thought into.

I expected there to be some level of correlation between rest and pace for the Gators but I didn’t expect it to be quite so straight forward with more rest seeming to always indicate a faster pace. For a Gators team that wants to play faster I think these are really interesting numbers and it’s something that they should keep in mind when discussing the issue of pace.

What To Do With The Information

The schedule of when games are played is largely out of the Gators’ control and it’s not like they can figure out a way to give themselves rest advantages so while I think the info laid out is interesting it’s not like they can make any changes there.

Regarding rest I think the biggest role the coaches play is how they lay out their practices. Making sure players get the proper amount of rest is incredibly challenging in the grind of an SEC schedule but when you see how much rest seems to affect style of play the importance is highlighted.

It should also be noted that Florida pressed a lot last season and played a really up-tempo style of defense that took a lot of energy. Quantifying exactly how much energy would be tough but I’d be interested in knowing how much schedule and fatigue plays a role in deciding when they should press or not. The Gators didn’t play much zone last season and zone defenses usually take a hair less than energy than man and I think there’s a chance we see more zone next season.

The biggest difference moving forward is that the Gators have much more depth this season than they did last and that should make for a less fatigued team. This could pay dividends throughout the schedule but especially in games where Florida has the rest disadvantage and hopefully the Gators won’t go winless in games they’re the less rested team again.

You may not have thought about rest in the way I laid out before but now that you know, keep an eye out for Florida’s pace of play in different rest scenarios next season.

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.