According to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein, Florida will face Ohio in a non-conference game scheduled for Dec. 12. It will be a neutral site game in Tampa at the Amalie Arena.
It may look like a regular announcement of a non-conference game, but in reality, it’s much more.
When Todd Golden was hired in Florida, he had a reputation for being an avid analytic. Hearing this will get a lot of people thinking about shot selection, lineup decisions, and in-game strategy, and while that’s a huge way to use analysis in the Florida basketball program is far from the only way.
One area where analytics can be used to a major advantage is planning and doing everything possible to play the NCAA NET Rankings, their official NCAA Tournament sorting tool. Since the NET is algorithmically generated, there are ways to position your team as positively as possible and the game Florida just scheduled with Ohio shows that Golden brings the analytically savvy method of smart planning and play from NET to the Gators program. Here’s how.
There are different ways to predict where teams will end up in the NET, both based on historical data from the league the team is from and how their roster looks for the season. According to the T-Rank analysis tool, Ohio is expected to finish 163rd in the nation.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that T-Rank nails the prediction and Ohio ends up finishing the season 163rd in the NET.
If the Gators were to play this game in Gainesville, it would be a Quadrant 4 game, the least valuable game for the NCAA selection committee. Indeed, for a real home match, the NET system values a match against a team ranked 161-353 as a quadrant-4 match.
However, the Gators didn’t schedule that game at home, they scheduled it for a neutral site. Because of that, if Ohio finished 163rd, it would be a Quadrant 3 game.
Although you play on the same team, playing Ohio at a neutral site inherently makes this game much more valuable. Of course, there’s also some play with this game in Tampa, far from a true neutral site location with Ohio. The NCAA used to use the “half-home” and “half-away” distinctions for “neutral” venue play in the state, but in the NET system the distinction isn’t so clear.
Targeting a team that is in the mid-100s projected finishing range and programming them for neutral ground may be a coincidence, but I find it hard to believe. This game makes analytical sense, the goodness of the NET’s ranking system written all over it and this must be Golden’s first step to fully exploit the data to put his team in the best position to make the NCAA tournament and have a good seed.
Part of the reason San Francisco was able to make the NCAA Tournament last season under Golden with a strong seed was that exact type of smart planning. They played Davidson (46th in NET), Towson (71st in NET), UAB (49th in NET), Grand Canyon (92nd in NET) and Loyola Chicago (28th in NET), which meant three quadrants -1 games and two games from quadrant-2, a program of very good quality even when playing exclusively mid-majors.
Florida last year, on the other hand, largely played teams in the mid-200s in the home NET. If you are a die-hard fan who follows the NET after every game, you will remember that the Gators won a few of these games and always fell on the NET afterwards, a sign of how little weight these games are given. by the NET. Ultimately, that played a small part in the Gators not being close to the NCAA Tournament conversation.
We will continue to see the impact of Golden using analytics to help him lead the program and this game with Ohio at a neutral site is a shining example of how data can help a basketball team. university with all the elements, both on and off the field.