Is Florida better this season?

Elite defense, improved scoring has Gators primed for deeper tourney run

Updated: February 4, 2014, 12:34 PM ET
By John Gasaway | ESPN Insider

FloridaKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsScottie Wilbekin helps lead a Florida defense that holds SEC opponents to 0.87 points per possession.

Florida blew out Texas A&M in Gainesville on Saturday by the score of 69-36, a margin of victory that will help the Gators look good to anyone who tracks performance on a per-possession basis (like I do).

Sure enough, a quick check of the figures reveals that Billy Donovan's team has outscored its SEC opponents by a whopping 0.24 points per possession, the highest scoring margin exhibited by any major-conference team in league play this season. Syracuse, for example, has outscored the ACC by 0.16 points per trip.

That sounds impressive enough if you're Florida, and indeed way back in 2011-12 it was scoring margins like this within the same conference -- and a perfect 16-0 record -- that marked Kentucky as the clear favorite to win the national title.

The only problem is that Donovan's team looked fantastic according to those same metrics last season, and all it got the Gators was a No. 3 seed and a 79-59 thrashing in the Elite Eight at the hands of Michigan.

Donovan is surely to be commended for reaching three consecutive Elite Eights, but can UF do even better in the 2014 tournament? Why should anyone believe this season's statistically dominant team will fare any better than last season's statistically dominant team?

Good question. As it happens, I think the Gators are indeed better than last season's team. One indication may be simply the fact that Donovan's men are recording the same kind of gaudy per-possession scoring margins as the 2012-13 team, but this season's UF squad is doing so against an SEC that's slightly tougher than it was one year ago.

Whether or not this team would really beat last season's squad head-to-head (which team would Patric Young play for?), for better or worse this 2013-14 roster is on a trajectory to do better than a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament -- which, in turn, could improve the Gators' chances of reaching their first Final Four since 2007.

Let's take a closer look at this season's team.