Why Can’t The Gators Shoot?

Many of Florida’s offensive struggles this season have been tied to shooting the basketball. They’re currently shooting 30.5% from beyond the arc, good for 287th in the country. What likely makes their struggles from deep even more apparent to the observer is that the Gators have shot a lot of them, ending 42.5% of possessions with a three-point attempt. 

 

When a team struggles shooting the responses from fans usually come in two camps, and that is even more apparent given the current Florida situation.

 

On one hand, you’ve got the blame the coach crowd, and Mike White has taken his fair share of criticism from fans who critique his offensive acumen. 

 

On the other hand, you’ve got people that say “the players have to make shots.”

 

So, for the Gators–which is it?

 

Oftentimes basketball analysis whether from fans, media, or announcers can come down to “you’ve gotta make shots!” which has, at times, felt a bit lazy to me. Yes, basketball is a game of, well, putting the ball through the hoop, or “making shots,” but this kind of analysis suggests that all shots are created equal, which simply isn’t true.

 

So, when I think about how much of Florida’s struggles have to do with “just making shots” I start by looking at the quality of shots the Gators are taking.

 

Let’s look at Florida’s catch and shoot attempts which make up a large number of their three-point attempts. 

 

According to Synergy Sports Technology, 52% of Florida’s attempts have been unguarded, and 48% have been guarded.

 

Looking at those numbers without context may not mean anything, so let’s use last year’s Florida team to compare. The 2020-21 Gators team shot 35.6% from three which was 81st in the country, so certainly above average but not quite elite.

 

For that team–63% of their attempts were unguarded, and only 37% was guarded.

 

That is a major difference, and it doesn’t even factor in some intangibles.

 

Looking at Florida’s catch and shoot possessions last year, it was clear that teams were looking to take away the three-point shot which was one of Florida’s biggest weapons. For that reason, the fact they were able to get open for 63% of their attempts is huge. 

 

Coercely, look at how the Gators have been guarded this year. It’s clear Colin Castleton is Florida’s biggest offensive weapon so teams have been loading up against him and sending double teams all season long, and a number of Florida’s opponents have been willing to give the Gators open threes. Given that teams aren’t as concerned with Florida’s shooting and have been willing to give up those shots, the fact that only 52% of their attempts have been unguarded is somewhere between surprising and shocking. 

 

This season, the national average for the ratio of unguarded to guarded catch and shoot attempts is roughly 60% unguarded to 40% guarded.

 

That should tell you something right there–the Gators are generating a concerningly low amount of open catch and shoot attempts. Just that statement alone helps frame Florida’s shooting issues a bit better.

 

But, it doesn’t say anything about the “players need to make shots” part of the argument. Even though the Gators are generating less open shots than the national average, they’re still getting a good number of open shots if 48% of their catch and shoot attempts are unguarded. 

 

When guarded, the Gators are shooting 30.3% on catch and shoot attempts.

 

When unguarded, the Gators are shooting 37.7%. 

 

Once again, to help contextualize these numbers, let’s compare it to last season’s team.

 

Guarded

 

2020-21: 30.0%

2021-22: 30.3%

 

Unguarded:

 

2020-21: 37.8%

2021-22: 37.7%

 

…the similarities in percentage are shockingly similar. I mean, SHOCKINGLY similar.

 

To remind you once again, last year’s team shot 35.6% from three (81st in the country), and this year’s team is shooting 30.5% from three (287th in the country).

 

And that’s while shooting nearly identical numbers when guarded and unguarded. 

 

So, what’s the difference?

 

Last year’s team’s ability to create open shots, versus this year’s team’s struggles to do so. If the Gators were able to get 63% of their attempts unguarded this year just like last season, the numbers would suggest that we wouldn’t be having the conversation of Florida struggling to shoot. 

 

How were the Gators able to get open shots last year, and why is this team not having the same success?

 

One of the major differences has been the departure of Tre Mann, and obviously it makes some sense that losing a first round NBA draft pick would hurt your offense. A lot of Florida’s threes came off of isolations that drew help defenders and therefore created an open man, which was 9% of Florida’s total attempts, versus this year where 5% of Florida’s offense has come out of isolations–and went poorly. The Gators are 352nd in the country in isolation created offense, and only 30% of the threes generated out of isolation have been unguarded. 

 

A decreased amount of open catch and shoot chances also appears to be the opportunity cost of Florida’s post up heavy offense. Now, I know what some of you are going to say–shouldn’t Castleton getting double teamed in the post generate open threes? Hypothetically it could, but in actuality that hasn’t been the case so far. Only 13% of post up possessions have ended up in an open catch and shoot three, so it’s a bit of an unlikely occurrence even though Castleton is facing so many double teams. It’s worth pointing out that the Gators did do a much better job at playing out of the double team against LSU, and perhaps they’ll start to generate more quality threes out of the post. 

When a three-point shot has come from a post up the Gators are shooting 38% so it has been a quality look–just one that hasn’t come often enough. As the Gators fully embrace the post-centered offense, they’ll have to think about how they can generate more three-point looks out of it. 

 

Last year, Tyree Appleby shot 35%, and this year he’s shooting 30%.

 

Brandon McKissic shot 43%, now he’s shooting 28%. 

 

Myreon Jones had two straight seasons shooting 40%, he’s now at 30%. 

 

Some of these guys definitely need to step up and “make some shots,” but I don’t believe the blame for Florida’s poor shooting falls all on the players. The statistics show that the Gators are generating a lot less open looks than they should be, and if they were getting even the national average of open looks, they’d likely be an average or even an above average shooting team. That means there is still some hope, but they’ll need to start generating those good looks quickly as Florida could run out of chances to get their offense firing.

 

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. The answer is simple. They are all playing WAY TOO uptight. They have stopped enjoying the game of basketball with the exception of six players- perhaps seven- Castleton who is having an all-SEC season despite playing for a team that is at the bottom rung of the SEC, Duruji, Fleming, McKissic, Jitoboh [never thought his name would be in this group, but he has been the greatest improved player on the team and is making great contributions. If only White would play him more minutes] and Felder. Reeves plays way too passively like he does not want to ruin his NBA hopes by looking bad on the court. If he would play as he played in HS, he would be off to the NBA after this season. If he stops playing like a deer in a headlight and living on the perimeter watching like a spectator, he could make major contributions to the team. This team’s success depended on his living up to his billing as one of the top HS players coming into college basketball.
    It is time for him to be more assertive. God did not bring you this far Reeves to stand on the perimeter and watch the others play.

    Only Georgia other than us is winless in the SEC. This is Crean’s 4th year, and he is aided by a National Championship football program which is the elite of college football. White, on the other hand, has been at Florida now for 7 years and is producing this kind of basketball at 2.6 million a year with incentives. White does not have the benefit of a successful football program which lessens the impact of his program’s failures after the tremendous success Donovan had in building the program to one of the top 10 in the country.

    If you take any CEO who takes over a company that is profitable and in the top 10-15 of desirable places to work by the top talent in the industry when he takes over, you compensate him better than 50% of the other CEOs in the industry (the SEC- all those making less than he is are currently performing better), and in 5 years the program is no longer profitable, and very few top talented personnel want to work for the entity, it is time to seriously consider replacing that CEO.

  2. Apple y is really puzzling since he was at Florida last year when he shot much better. Some of the 3 point shooters are so bad that they shouldn’t be shooting 3’s. Most of the other players came from programs that were much less talented than the SEC and they don’t shoot as well against the improved defenses. We aren’t as well coached under White as we were under Donovan in many aspects. We seem to get a little bit worse every year.