Where Florida Failed And Succeeded With Lineup Decisions

Analytics informing basketball decisions is becoming more and more commonplace there are still some elements of the advanced stat revolution that are embraced more than others. Taking more and more threes as opposed to tougher twos has been embraced by just about everyone, and slowly we’re seeing more teams starting to utilize intentionally fouling in 1-and-1 situations, fouling up three, and taking two-for-one opportunities at the end of halves. 

 

While Florida has been willing to embrace some elements of analytics, there is one area where they haven’t appeared to be interested.

 

Lineup data.

 

For those of you who have followed my work for a while now (and salute to all of you!) you’ll know that lineup data is something I am passionate about and know can be a powerful tool that gets the most out of a roster. 

 

Lineup data can tell us the net rating (points scored and points allowed, prorated to per 100 possessions) of a group of 5 players, as well as how that group rebounded, shot, took care of the ball, and pretty much any other statistic you might want to know.

 

Looking at lineup data can look a whole lot like looking into a crystal ball. Put in a lineup that has done well all season and has a positive net rating in a big moment? They’re often going to succeed. Put in a lineup that has performed poorly all season and has a negative net rating? Don’t be shocked when they continue to play poorly. 

 

Last season, lineup data showed us that the Gators played unquestionably their best basketball when Omar Payne was playing alongside Kerry Blackshear. It informed, based on their new starting lineup with the two bigs, why the Gators played their best basketball of the season to start SEC play and then predicted why the Gators would play their worst basketball of the season (going 2-4) when they inexplicably stopped playing the lineup entirely. 

Fast forward to this season and lineup data predicted that the Gators would choke away a lead to 6-15 South Carolina based on a lineup Florida put out in the clutch that had a -7 net rating on the season against a Gamecock lineup that was +6. Playing a poor performing lineup against a good performing lineup, and exactly what you would expect to happen, happened. Florida squandered a lead and lost.

Lineup data then suggested the lineup that Florida chose to go with against Tennessee when Tre Mann went out with a migraine was going to hurt…

…and, well, it did. They predictably went scoreless for the first minutes of the game forcing substitutions. 

Next, disaster almost struck for the Gators when they allowed Vanderbilt to go on an 11-0 run in the second half to take a lead. People were shocked. But, if you looked at the lineup data, that awful stretch from Florida should have been predicted. 

 

Next, the NCAA Tournament.

 

Mike White made some interesting substitutions early in the game which allowed Virginia Tech to take an early 21-11 lead. Unfortunately, not surprising based on who was on the floor for the Gators. 

Finally, the double digit lead that was lost in the second half to Oral Roberts. A lot of people pointed to Florida slowing down the pace as to why they lost, and it certainly played a role. However, perhaps the even bigger reason was the lineup that Florida put on the floor in clutch time, or should I say, the lineup that Florida stopped using for the last 9 minutes and 30 seconds of the game.

Hopefully, that is enough evidence to show you just how powerful lineup data can be. Had Florida paid attention to these numbers and used it to inform decision making when it comes to who was on the floor the outcome of some key games could have been very different. 

 

Now that the importance of lineup data has been established, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of Florida’s most used lineups and how they did. As you see these groupings of players, don’t be surprised if you have some memories pop up of these lineups doing memorably well, or memorably poorly.

 

Tre Mann

Tyree Appleby

Noah Locke

Anthony Duruji 

Colin Castleton

 

Net Rating: +11

 

A regular starting group for most of conference play, this lineup was fantastic. With multiple ball handlers on the floor this lineup only had a turnover percentage of 15.9%, much better than the Gators’ overall turnover percentage of 21.2%. This lineup also did really well on the glass, something that was a problem for Florida on a whole. Their defensive rebounding percentage was 78.1%, which was the equivalent of the 6th best defensive rebounding team in the country. Since the Gators were 275th nationally in defensive rebounding, this group’s ability to take care of the glass is extra noticeable and impressive. 

 

Tre Mann

Tyree Appleby

Scottie Lewis

Anthony Duruji

Colin Castleton

 

Net Rating: -19

 

Right away, you’re going to see just why lineup data can be so interesting and why basketball chemistry is so fickle. 

 

Florida’s regular starters were awesome. However, flip out Noah Locke for Scottie Lewis, and the lineup was terrible. 

 

It didn’t stop the Gators from playing this lineup a bunch and with a net rating of -19 it almost always went poorly. This lineup was okay offensively with an offensive rating of 105, but it was their defense that was horrendous. They had a defensive rating of 124 (meaning they gave up 1.24 points per possession) and particularly struggled guarding on the perimeter. A whopping 58.5% of opponent’s shots came at the rim against this lineup who had a bad time trying to keep slashers out of the paint.

 

Tre Mann 

Noah Locke 

Scottie Lewis

Anthony Duruji

Colin Castleton

 

Net Rating: +7

 

Usually having multiple ball handlers on the floor make for a smoother offensive operation but with only Tre Mann on the court to initiate things this lineup was actually one of Florida’s most dangerous with an offensive rating of 112. This group shot 41.2% from three, which was a huge part of their success. 

 

Tyree Appleby

Noah Locke

Scottie Lewis

Anthony Duruji

Colin Castleton

 

Net Rating: -50

 

Unfortunately for Florida they did have to take Tre Mann off the floor at times and those minutes often went poorly, particularly this lineup of the regular starters without him. You would think that with the five most-used players other than him out on the floor things would at least go half decently, but once again we see that when it comes to basketball chemistry some combinations just don’t work. This lineup was brutal on both sides of the ball with a 76 offensive rating and 126 defensive rating. Without Mann on the floor there was no perimeter defense to be had, with 64% of opponent’s shots coming off drives to the hoop. Another crazy stat–in 34 minutes basketball, this group didn’t hit a single three.

 

Tre Mann

Tyree Appleby

Noah Locke 

Osayi Osifo

Colin Castleton

 

Net Rating: +29

 

Florida’s regular starters minus Anthony Duruji and plus Osayi Osifo was a good way to mix in the JUCO transfer. A lot of minutes with Osifo out there didn’t go well but putting him with the starters put him in a low-leverage situation where he wasn’t tasked with doing too much. Osifo was able to attack the glass with reckless abandon, helping this lineup have a 35% offensive rebound rate.

 

Tre Mann 

Tyree Appleby

Noah Locke

Osayi Osifo

Omar Payne

 

Net Rating: -17

 

This lineup was strangely a favorite of Florida’s for a stretch where the bench frontcourt of Osayi Osifo and Omar Payne came into the game and while they rebounded tenaciously that was about all that went right for them. Their first shot offense was poor and this lineup particularly struggled to contain pick and rolls. Florida’s bench wasn’t the deepest this season and this is one of the lineups with just two bench players where things started to look bad. 

 

Tre Mann

Tyree Appleby

Noah Locke

Anthony Duruji

Omar Payne

 

Net Rating: +21

 

Colin Castleton is a tremendous player but there were times where Mike White’s playcalling got the Gators a bit bogged down as they threw the ball inside to him where defenses could double team and collapse. When they subbed out Castleton and put in Omar Payne, a player they wouldn’t run plays through, things went really well. It was very clearly the Tre Mann show with Castleton off the floor and it made for a cohesive plan of attack. This lineup had a 117 offensive rating and looked really good. 

 

Tre Mann

Tyree Appleby

Noah Locke

Scottie Lewis

Colin Castleton

 

Net Rating: -14

 

Mike White has always loved small ball but this lineup was one that struggled, most notably against Oral Roberts in the biggest game of the season. Of course, this lineup was bad all year, so expecting them to do anything different in the NCAA Tournament was perhaps…ambitious. When you play small, you’re usually hoping to space out defenses and be incredibly efficient offensively. That wasn’t the case for this group who had only a 98 offensive rating, and had an awfully high turnover rate of 23.2% as the style of play the Gators went to with this group on the floor was dribble drive which did not fit the stylings of Noah Locke and Scottie Lewis. When you play small one of the concerns is going to be rebounding, and with this group those worst nightmares were realized. They had 56.2% defensive rebounding rate, meaning opponents who missed shots were nearly as likely to get an offensive rebound as Florida was to get a defensive rebound.

 

Looking through those lineups and seeing how they performed you can see why lineup data is so important. It was astonishing how often the Gators put in a lineup that has done well historically…and they played well. Or, they put in a lineup that has done badly, and they give up a big run. Looking at data from past performances is a great way of predicting future outcomes, and using that information could help the Gators get the most out of their players.

 

Next season the Gators are going to have a bunch of new faces and they will have a big challenge on their hands to see what lineups work and what combinations of players have chemistry together. Using lineup data, quite simply, would be the best way to find out which players work together and which don’t, in order to make sure the team is playing their best basketball and getting the most out of their players at the end of the season.

 

A huge thanks to my partners at Pivot Analysis who help me get the lineup data I need to bring pieces of work like this to Gator Country.

 

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.

3 COMMENTS

  1. “ Next season the Gators are going to have a bunch of new faces and they will have a big challenge on their hands to see what lineups work and what combinations of players have chemistry together.”

    Based on your last two years of line up analysis …it won’t matter, Doesn’t appear the coaches know the same stats you do or if they do they ignore it completely.