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HOOPS: Are freebies Florida's lone Achilles heel?

8043986(Courtesy hailfloridahail.com)

GAINESVILLE -- No. 3 Florida upended Tennessee 67-58 Tuesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena. 

Despite another hard-fought battle in Knoxville, the Gators (22-2, 11-0 Southeastern Conference) won their 16th straight game thanks to effort, equanimity and a continued pursuit of excellence. 

The Volunteers (15-9, 6-5 SEC) were red-hot from the field in the first half, but the Gators managed to weather UT's shooting storm and play spoiler as Tennessee teased a national audience once again. 

While Florida tightened up its interior defense in the second half and made critical plays (Michael Frazier, Scottie Wilbekin treys; Patric Young hustle rebound) when necessary, a (potentially) overlooked factor in Tuesday's victory was the improvement in UF's normally-middling free throw shooting. 

The Gators shot 77 percent (17-22) from the charity stripe, easily its top mark in conference play all year. 

For Florida fans, the hope is that its free throw percentage -- 66 percent for the season -- continues to improve. If not, it could doom UF's chances to win a national title. 

I've purposely buried the lede here, but the last NCAA team to shoot under 70 percent and win a national championship: The 2006-07 Florida Gators. 

Take a peak of the last decade, and only two teams have shot under 70 percent and won a title.   

YEAR

NATIONAL CHAMP

FREE THROW %

2013

Louisville

71 percent

2012

Kentucky

72 percent

2011

Connecticut

76 percent

2010

Duke

76 percent

2009

North Carolina

75 percent

2008

Kansas

70 percent

2007

Florida

69 percent

2006

Florida

74 percent

2005

North Carolina

73 percent

2004

Connecticut

62 percent

The 2013-14 Gators dominate both traditional (field-goal percentage, scoring, etc.) and advanced (see: kenpom.com) analytics -- with the notable exception of team free throwing shooting. 

Coach Billy Donovan is certainly aware of the issue, as Florida ranks No. 292 nationally.  

The Gators are on a roll and appear to be the nation's most complete (and underrated) team. They're experienced, talented, deep, measured and hungry, but even a lone scarlet weakness could torpedo the entire season come March.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Comments

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Don't think the Gators are underrated at all both the Cuse and Zona have better records and the SEC is not known as a basketball conference. The dismal free throw shooting is a big concern come tournament time. So it is good news that they are getting better at it as shown in the last couple of games. Billy D needs to have these guys shoot frees every day and twice on Sundays. These guys could be really special.

Understatement of the year "SEC is not known as basketball conference" duhhhhhhhh

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