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Preview: BYU Cougars vs. Florida Gators

Whether you're a betting person or not, it's fair to say that the Las Vegas oddsmakers are extremely competent at what they do. Their careful selections should not be overlooked when attempting to predict how your team will fare.

In this instance, following the "Selection Sunday" reveal of Thursday's contest between the Gators and Cougars, the oddsmakers immediately named BYU the favorite. Of course, due to BYU's 123rd ranked strength of schedule, the oddsmakers have only picked against BYU twice all season (at New Mexico and at UNLV in regular season conference play). Nevertheless, the experts agree that Florida is "the dog" here - with BYU now favored to win with the over/under currently set at 4. What does this mean in layman's terms? It should to be a tight match-up in Oklahoma City on Thursday.

Let's take a closer look on why this 7-10 game could be a classic, with the Cougars hopefully ending up on top. A general statistical overview of Florida and BYU illustrates the two teams as having similar strengths and weaknesses. We'll utilize Dean Oliver's "Four Factors to Winning."

Effective Field Goal % - [(FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA.) This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%).]

The Cougars are 6% better than the Gators. That's good for 11th in the country compared to Florida's 149th ranking. This can mainly be attributed to players like Jackson Emery (63% - 21st overall) - but no Cougar player seeing significant minutes has an EFG% less than 51.9% (Jonathan Tavernari). In contrast, Florida's top two leading scorers both have EFG%'s less than 45%. The Gators' EFG% is worse than San Diego State's (52.6%), New Mexico's (51%) and UNLV's (49.7%) as well.

If you wanted to break it down in terms of just three-point shooting you'd see that the Cougars are 2nd in the nation in 3PT% (41.9%) and make 8.1 three's per game. In contrast, Florida shoots just as many treys per game (18.7 to the Cougars' 19.4) but average only 5.8 makes. The Gators' overall 3PT% is 31.3% - good enough for 282nd overall. That's better than San Diego State and UNLV, but not New Mexico.

Advantage: BYU (55.4% to 49.4%)

Turnover % - [(100 * TOV / (FGA + 0.44 * FTA + TOV). Turnover percentage is an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays.]

When it comes to turnovers, BYU is top heavy - there is Jimmer Fredette then everyone else. Fredette averages 2.63 turnovers per game. But you take the infinitesimal bad with the extraordinary good anytime. For example, Fredette had seven turnovers at Fresno State in December. Of course, he also had 24 points and 7 assists while shooting 50% from the field. No other Cougar averages more than 1.3 turnovers per game (Brandon Davies) and that's why they are tied with Duke for 12th in the nation in that category.

The Gators aren't exactly turnover prone either however (64th overall). Their primary ball-handler, Erving Walker, has an outstanding assist/turnover ration of 2.1 (Fredette's is 1.8). If you're looking for a similar comparison, Florida turns the ball over at about the same rate as 5-seeded Texas A & M. So don't expect the Gators to cough up the ball like some inferior MWC team (see: Colorado State, 287th overall). In comparison to the top tier MWC schools, Florida has turned the ball over at a higher rate than New Mexico and UNLV, but not SDSU.

Advantage: BYU (But not by much - 16.3 to 18.3)

Offensive Rebounding % - [(100 * (ORB * (Tm MP / 5)) / (MP * (Tm ORB + Opp DRB)). Offensive rebound percentage is an estimate of the percentage of available offensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor]

BYU's offensive rebounding troubles are well documented. The Cougars finished 4th in the MWC in Offensive Rebounds per game and 262nd overall. On the defensive glass however, BYU is 4th in the nation - just behind Kansas but ahead of Kentucky. So how can this be? Well, for starters, it's because the Cougars fill it up as mentioned earlier (11th overall EFG%). The other part of it is that the Cougars are a perimeter oriented team. They attempted 661 3-pointers (62nd overall) but that's exactly 1/3 of ALL their shot attempts this season. In fact, BYU's true post-players - Anderson, Davies, Hartsock, and Miles (62 starts and 1909 total minutes) - combined for ONLY 1/5 of the Cougars' total shot attempts. So, maybe this category isn't a good indicator of BYU's success (or lack thereof).

In contrast, the Gators are 55th overall in offensive rebounding and 3rd in the SEC. In fact, they are New Mexico's equal in terms of the offensive boards. Florida is led on the glass by a pair of junior forwards - Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. Parsons averages 2.2 offensive boards per game and 6.8 overall. Tyus grabs 1.8 offensive boards and 6.8 overall also. They are long and athletic and Hartsock, Davies and Miles will have their work cut out for them underneath. In terms of overall rebounding though, the teams are about equal - the Cougars averaging 37.4 per contest and the Gators 37.0.

This downward trend isn't exactly a pleasing sign for BYU fans.

Advantage: Florida (36.7% - 31.4%)


Free Throw %/Rate - (The free throw factor is a measure of both how often a team gets to the line and how often they make them. The formula for both offense and defense is FT / FGA)

The important thing to consider here is the rate at which the Cougars can get to the line - cause when they do they make them. BYU is the best free throw shooting team in the nation this season and they are led by Tyler Haws (91%). Unfortunately, if Haws' eye continues to swell this week, he likely will be out of action on Thursday. In that case his spot will be filled by a combination of Tavernari (81%), Charles Abouo (71%) and Mike Loyd (62%). Still, the person who matters most is Fredette (90%). If Fredette can shoot at least ten free throws he'll reach his scoring average. (The fewest amount he's scored when shooting that many free throws is 21, and that was when he went 4 of 15 from the field in the Cougars' worst loss at UNLV.)

The 5'8" Walker is the Gators' best free throw shooter at 81%. Leading scorer and freshman Kenny Boynton shoots 74% from the line. Parsons, Tyus and 6'10" starting center Vernon Macklin all shoot less than 70%. In crunch time Macklin is the ideal man for the Cougars to foul but Billy Donovan could easily substitute the 6'8" Dan Werner off the bench as he shoots 76% from the line and averages 27 minutes a game as the Gators' 6th man. Florida shoots 70.2% overall which is 130th in the nation and comparable to TCU.

Advantage: BYU (38.1% to 33.8%)


Overall -

The Cougars have the edge in three of the four categories. However, one might question whether some of BYU's numbers are inflated by having a much easier schedule than the Gators this season. But regardless of the Cougars' opponents this season, it's hard to make an argument against their shooting ability - and according the Oliver, that's the stat that matters the most.

It should be an exciting game with the Gators attempting to halt the Cougars' perimeter shooting and transition game - and with BYU attempting to keep Florida off the glass and prevent them from using their superior athleticism inside. BYU has experienced players and will be glad to finally leave the confines of the Thomas & Mack Center this week. So, just like the oddsmakers (and apparently Stewart Mandel), we like their chances.