FLORIDA vs No. 3 TENNESSEE
Saturday, 6 p.m. (EST)
Exactech Arena/O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Florida (9-5, 1-1); Tennessee (13-1, 2-0)
ESPN (Beth Mowins
and Jimmy Dykes
: Gator IMG Sports Network (Mick Hubert
and Bill Koss
STAKES (The Setup)
The O'Dome will be sold out for a visit for a third-ranked Tennessee team that not only is the reigning Southeastern Conference co-champion, but also a fashionable choice to reach the Final Four -- and with its fire-belly upperclassmen, a legitimate national championship contender. ... Florida saved itself from some dire straits Wednesday night by staving off a hard, late charge and winning 57-51 at Arkansas, thus avoiding a similar, double-digit, late-game breakdown that doomed the Gators four days earlier in the SEC opener against South Carolina at home. Tennessee, meanwhile, has been drama-free to start the conference season. The Volunteers annihilated Georgia by 46 in their opener at home, then spanked Missouri by 24 on the road. Their lone loss of the season came in overtime against then-No. 1 Kansas in overtime on a neutral floor. Of Tennessee's 13 victories, all but one were by double-figures, with the exception being a 76-73 win over then-No. 1 Gonzaga, also on a neutral floor. ... The Vols lead the all-time series 74-57, but the Gators have a 35-24 edge at home. ... UT won the last meeting, 62-57, on Feb. 21, 2018 at Knoxville, a defensive slugfest that saw UF score just 18 first-half points. The Gators trailed by 10 in the second half, but three times managed to cut the lead to one. The Vols held on behind 23 points and six rebounds from 2018 SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams
, plus 16 points and eight boards from Admiral Schofield
. Florida got 11 points, six rebounds and nine assists from point guard Chris Chiozza
, but his team shot just 35 percent for the game, including 6-for-24 from the 3-point line (25 percent). ... UF coach Mike White
is 1-2 against Tennessee in his four seasons. ... If coming to the game, get there early for a pre-game appearance by football coach Dan Mullen
and some players who will fire up the masses.
STARTERS (Probable Lineups)
STANDING OUT (One to Watch)
||18.8 pts / 7.8 reb / 3.9 ast
||10.6 pts / 8.1 reb / 1.9 blk
||18.0 pts / 6.6 reb / 2.9 ast
||14.2 pts / 2.6 reb / 6.8 ast
||4.0 pts / 3.1 reb
STUFF (Need-to-Know Info)
ABOUT THE GATORS:
They make the UF fans go screaming into the night on offense, but they also are a nightmare to play against. The defensive numbers say so. Arkansas was averaging 81.2 points through its first 13 games, but scored a season-low 5, making the Razorbacks the fourth high-major opponent this season to be held at least 24 points below its average (West Virginia, Michigan State, Butler and Arkansas), with three of the four 30 below their average. ... Against the Hogs, the Gators introduced a "small-ball" starting lineup for the first time this season, moving fifth-year senior swingman Jalen Hudson
back into the first five to play the "4" position and counter the Arkansas speed and quickness. Though Hudson continues to struggle with his shot, going 4-for-15 overall and 1-for-5 from deep, he remained aggressive and did not let his off night on offense affect him on the other end. In fact, the small-ball lineup of four
guards ended up with all four grabbing at least five rebounds. ... Against a team with the front court punch of Tennessee, the Gators have to find a way to get some productivity out of the true "4" position. In two SEC games, forwards Keith Stone
(6.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Keyontae Johnson
(6.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg) have combined to shoot 0-for-12 from the floor (Johnson 0-for-8, Stone 0-for-4), with 13 rebounds, nine turnovers and just one point in 56 minutes. ... Shooting guard KeVaughn Allen
, like most of his teammates, did not have a hot hand at Arkansas (3-for-11 and 1-for-9), but he hunted shots and was assertive enough to get to the free-throw line 12 times, where he hit 11, including four in the final 12 seconds to seal the game. ... Guard Noah Locke
, shooting 42.4 percent from the arc, has five straight games in double figures and continues to belie his youth with maturity and leadership lacking from several upperclassmen. Ditto point guard Andrew Nembhard
, who handled the Arkansas pressure with aplomb, yielded just one turnover and kept his teammates steady for the better part of the game. ... Center Kevarrius Hayes
has spent the first two SEC games on the bench in foul trouble, playing a total of 26 minutes and totaling seven points and five rebounds. Credit backup Dontay Bassett
(3.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg) with some quality minutes and important minutes, especially Wednesday, with Hayes on the bench. ... ABOUT THE VOLUNTEERS:
They're 70-45 in four seasons under future Hall-of-Fame coach Rick Barnes
, who at his fifth stop (George Mason, Providence, Clemson, Texas, Tennessee) is inching closer to a milestone 700th win, with a career mark of 674-359 in 32 seasons (.652 winning percentage). ... The Vols returned all five
starters from a team that went 26-9 overall and 13-5 in league play last season, won the program's first regular-season SEC title since 2008, lost to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game, then was upset as a 3-seed in NCAA South Region in a third-round 63-62 loss to 11th-seed and Final Four darling Loyola-Chicago. ...Tennessee is hitting nearly 52 percent of its shots as a team and 35 from the 3-point line. The Vols' 86.4 points per game leads the SEC and jumps to 91.5 through two league games. ... In 2018, forward Grant Williams
became the first Vol since Chris Lofton in 2007 to win SEC Player of the Year and could very well become the first since Arkansas forward Corliss Williamson
in 1994-95 to garner the award in consecutive seasons. He's a phenomenal offensive threat in the paint, with an array of moves that have him shooting 57 percent overall and drawing enough fouls to be at 80.2 percent from the free-throw line on 101 attempts. Williams doesn't shoot a lot of 3s (only 20 so far), but he can make them if open (40 percent). He was 8-for-13 from the floor and 7-for-8 from the line in beating the Gators last season. ... Kyle Alexander
is listed as a forward, but he has a true center's size and makes for an ideal compliment to Williams. He's at 69 percent from the floor and leads the SEC with 40 offensive rebounds. In two SEC games, Alexander is averaging 15.5 rebounds. ... In the backcourt, Allen and Nembhard can expect to be harassed (if not mauled) all game by the duo Jordan Bone
and Jordan Bowden
, a pair of junkyard dogs that take their defensive cues and energy from Schofield. ... Forward Yves Pond
, once a UF recruit, is an ideal compliment to the high-octane Vols because Pond does not care about scoring (only 42 shots). He's just a savage defender and is fine with that role.
STATS (Some Numbers of Note)
— UF players who have scored at least 20 points in a game this season. Oh, this stat looks familiar? Get used to it. The Gators are the only team among the nation's 359 Division I programs without a 20-point scorer, so until they get one there just might be a place for it in this space.
— Double-figure trips to the free-throw line this season for Allen, the all-time free-throw percentage leader in UF history at 87.1. Is it hard to get to the line for at least 10 attempts in a game? Sure, it is. It is easier than most for a player of Allen's skill set? Yes. He's now done it now five times in his career, going 44-for-47 in those games (that's 93.6 percent), and the Gators are 5-0 in those occasions.
— Teams in Division I that rank in the top 20 of KenPom.com's
advanced metrics in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, one of which is Tennessee (3rd in offense, 19th in defense). The others: No. 1 Duke (3rd and 2nd); No. 4 Virginia (5th and 3rd); No. 6 Michigan State (2nd and 15th); No. 12 North Carolina (9th and 10th).
— The last year the Gators defeated an opponent ranked in the Associated Press
top five. It happened Nov. 27 of that year when UF defeated second-ranked Michigan State 77-74 in the Legends Classic at Atlantic City, N.J. Sophomore point guard Erving Walker
had 12 points and seven assists, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with just under two minutes left.
— The last year Florida and Tennessee played twice in the same season. The Gators and Vols actually played three times that season, with UF, of course, sweeping all three (67-41 at home; 67-58 on the road; 56-49 in the SEC Tournament at Atlanta) on the way to becoming the first team in league history to go a perfect 21-0 in conference play.
STATEMENT (Random thought)
This is the kind of opportunity that can turn the course of a season ... one way or another. How will the Gators respond?