Can North Florida Shoot its Way Back into March Madness?

Photo of UNF Arena courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Two years ago, the University of North Florida made its first ever NCAA tournament after joining Division I in 2005-06. Last year, the Ospreys made it to the NIT for the first time.

There was a key difference between those two seasons, though.

In 2015-16, UNF shot 1002 three-pointers, good for third best in the entire nation. In 2016-17, the team fell to 33rd with 841 attempts from behind the arc.

This season, UNF is second to Savannah State (who led in attempts last year) in hucking the ball up from behind the arc with 512. Averaging 30 attempts per game, the Ospreys would shoot 420 over their final 14 games and would sit around 932 before the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.

North Florida’s change is not a recent one, besides 2013-14 where it sat at 115th for 3-point attempts with 633. Under Matthew Driscoll, the team has found itself continuously in the top 50, and more recently in the top 20.

Now, UNF has had two losing streaks in non-conference play, but both included quality opponents such as Michigan State, Miami, Florida and Missouri. In that streak, multiple coaches pointed out the Ospreys’ shooting, including Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland

“I am glad we got the win,” Howland said to WTOP after his team’s Dec. 30 game. “Obviously, the first half went back and forth and North Florida shot really well from 3. In the second half we did a better job defending the 3 point line and we shot better, too.”

Much of that three point rush has come from J.T. Escobar and Ivan Gandia-Rosa. Escobar, a Mississippi transfer, leads the team with 121 attempts and is shooting 43.8 percent from the line.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Gandia-Rosa has played and started every game for the Ospreys so far as a sophomore. During that time, he’s second on the team with 111 attempts and is shooting 39.6 percent from behind the arc.

In total, seven players are currently shooting over 35 percent from behind the arc.

The downfall of this team could be their defense. They have given up the most points out of any DI team (1,482 total) and average 87.1 points given up per game, which means when they can’t keep up, they lose big.

Now, with an abundance of power conference losses, it will be interesting to see if the Ospreys get better in that category, as not every conference opponent will drop 100 on you a night. But the fact is if they don’t defend, their risk/reward style doesn’t work.

Florida Gulf Coast University has won the ASun the last two years, including a 77-61 win over UNF last year in the championship game. If the Ospreys want to prevent the three-peat by FGCU they must sure up that defense to give their shooters any chance of keeping them in the game.

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